Escape the World’s Biggest Racket — Politics and the Age of Decentralization
from Bananas! link Apr 20, 2016
If somebody asks what you think of politicians, what’s your gut response…
Yum or Yuk?
For most people it’s a yuk that ranks even lower than cockroaches and colonoscopies.
Even if you’re bored or disgusted by politics, a moment of focus is warranted. Why? Because Americans are at serious risk despite their material comfort relative to much of the rest of the world.
Americans are suffering from record levels of depression, suicide, obesity, and stress-related disease. The U.S. has become medication nation. People are drinking themselves to death in record numbers. I travel a lot, and every time I return to America the feeling of anxiety in the air is palpable.
Simply put, things are not OK. Americans know these are dangerous times. But despite what politicians and the media keep insisting, the primary threat to our well-being isn’t ISIS, or falling televisions.
But “private violence” isn’t how hundreds of millions of people get slaughtered. These shocking democide statistics reveal the most pressing lesson of politics: The more powerful any political regime becomes, the more at risk we are.
A small, poor government has limited ability to inflict widespread harm. But a monumentally powerful government is capable of inflicting catastrophic harm at home and abroad. Indeed today’s U.S. regime is the most monumentally powerful government in history. It possesses an unprecedented capacity to stalk, propagandize, extort, kidnap, bankrupt, cage, or destroy anyone and anything that doesn’t serve its interests.
Permission to Live
Relative material comfort and the never-ending entertainment hurricane distract us from the danger of the situation. The simple truth is that the government calls the shots in virtually every aspect of our lives.
If you doubt that, please review the CFR and state legal codes. Leave me a comment naming anything that’s not “regulated” (in other words, controlled) by the regime under threat of fines or imprisonment.
But isn’t this just “law and order”? No. It’s a matrix of control which, as we’ll see, has turned us into unwitting criminals. Over 40 percent of all men are arrested by age 23.
The rest of us just haven’t been caught yet. Really. Everyone is at risk. Law professor John Baker warns, “There is no one in the United States over the age of 18 who cannot be indicted for some federal crime. That is not an exaggeration.”
Every adult choice we make today is subject to government permission. None of this happened overnight. It’s the generational result of politicians hatching literally thousands of new laws year after year, decade after decade.
The mainstream media calls politicians “lawmakers” for good reason. Making up laws is their primary expression of power. The effects often extend for decades after their political terms end. Even centuries.
I know it’s tempting to block this stuff out, but there’s a vast and growing wasteland of ruined lives who have already been victimized. Some might claim I’m exaggerating, but facts speak louder than any warning:
The Democracy Delusion
Here’s the reality of democracy in America: Less than 0.001 percent of the government is elected.
That’s right, less than one one-thousandth of one percent of the government is chosen by “the people.”
The U.S. regime is 22 million tax-funded employees who “govern” through thousands of federal, state, and local bureaucracies. (That doesn’t count millions of private contractors on the government’s payroll.)
Just how many of these strangers do voters get the pretense of choosing? Four stuffed shirts at the national level and a few local politicians…
It’s like voting for a handful of ice cubes to be tossed on an iceberg.
And yet the perpetual caging, killing, and stalking are done in the name of democracy, as if to suggest that voters chose these outcomes. “The will of the people” is a farce.
Now researchers at Princeton have proven what most of us already know: There’s ZERO relationship between what the government does and what voters want. Voter turnout is at record lows because people know the system is a scam.
Even celebrities are wising up. Welcome to the democracy delusion, Mr. Diddy.
Is the system corrupt? Depends on your perspective. To the regime it’s working as designed. It’s set up for anything but change. For those who believe voting for one one-thousandth of one percent of the government matters, know that the fix is in anyway. Despite record low approval ratings, incumbents have a 96 percent reelection rate — by design.
It all seems like madness, until you realize the system is set up to serve the regime, not you. Meanwhile, those 22 million unelected strangers will be “governing” you before and after every election. And you’ll continue to pay their salaries under threat of imprisonment regardless of how or if you vote for the 0.001 percent.
Politics divides, then conquers.
The premise of choosing a handful of power-seeking strangers to
lie to represent you and boss you around govern you hasn’t worked out well. It’s left millions of Americans angry, cheated, bitter, and fed up.
This isn’t about voting harder or protesting louder. It’s about embracing truth and pulling back the curtain.
Politics is the biggest racket on earth.
America’s reputation has historically revolved around buzzwords like liberty, independence, and self-determination. So tell me, what if you’re a peaceful person who just wants to be left alone?
What if you don’t want to fund military invasions, coups, black sites, or three ways to kill everything?
Or the caging of millions of nonviolent people in the War on Drugs?
Or the rapacious bailouts of megabanks and regime cronies?
Or the surveillance panopticon stalking you at every turn?
What if paying for so much predation, graft, and creepiness to be carried out in your name by strangers who claim to “represent” you conflicts with every cell in your being?
The government’s response to these questions is unequivocal: “Too damn bad.”
In other words, complain all you want, but pay and obey or be caged.
Meanwhile, the regime manufactures ever bigger stockpiles of murderous WMDs while shutting down cupcake and lemonade stands to “keep us safe” as it puts explosives in school buses and loses samples of deadly pandemic diseases.
Let’s stop whistling past the graveyard. The U.S. government’s reach knows no bounds.
– part 1 –
THE TERRIFYING REALITY OF USA #1
“The land of the free” is a dystopian punchline for anybody willing to step back and take a sober look around.
The flag — and “the republic for which it stands” — is at peak power. Empire is an understatement. No government in history has straddled a taller mountain of laws, lucre, surveillance tech, enforcers, prisons, and weapons of mass destruction.
USA #1 is a terrifying reality to confront. Every regime “win” has been our loss.
What follows is a reckoning of those losses. It’s not good news, but I won’t leave you feeling angry or defeated. After the reckoning of #1’s we’ll look at some miraculously great and exciting developments, and a roadmap for living a free life in spite of the dangers we face.
Let’s turn our eyes on the racket together.
Among the world’s 197 regimes, the U.S. Government is the…
#1 TAX FARMER
Money can’t buy happiness, but it certainly buys power.
We begin here because cash is the lifeblood of every government. The more money a regime extracts from people, the more powerful it becomes.
The “Founding Fathers” of the U.S. government were fierce tax haters. They revolted against the British regime over being taxed from afar. There was no income tax under the “absolute Tyranny” of King George, but a 2-3% sales tax on certain goods made them want to throw down the gauntlet of rebellion.
This of course made the Founding Fathers terrorists in the eyes of the British government.
So with the spirit of the Founder’s tax rebellion in mind, consider the irony that the government they established enforces the most invasive and widespread taxation system on the planet.
The U.S. government is the only regime in the world which imposes global taxation.
(Actually, tinpot dictatorship Eritrea does too. Apparently the U.S. is its role model.)
What’s global taxation? For Americans it means that even if you don’t live in the U.S. or work for a U.S. company, you are legally compelled to file taxes with the IRS.
By comparison, when citizens from other notoriously high tax jurisdictions like France live and work in other countries, the French regime doesn’t tax them.
But say you’ve been a winemaker in Italy or a doctor in New Zealand for the past 20 years…30 years…50 years. Surely there’s a statute of limitations? Nope. If you’re a U.S. citizen, the IRS demands that you bend the knee. Every year. Decade after decade.
There are certain deductions and treaties which can reduce the double taxation burden (in other words, paying taxes to two different governments). This makes the filing complexities an expensive make-work boon for accountants and tax lawyers.
It gets even worse.
If you were born and raised in another country and have never set foot in the United States, it’s criminal not to file taxes every year if your parents happen to be U.S. citizens.
The practical among you may be wondering how the government can possibly enforce this global taxation system.
The answer is FATCA — the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act.
Through FATCA, banks around the world are forced to be de facto IRS agents, literally filing reports with the government on all “U.S. persons.” The process is so costly and complex that many international banks have shut down Americans’ accounts and stopped accepting new American customers.
FATCA effectively amounts to backdoor capital controls.
A Swiss banker explains, “We survived World War I, World War II, the instability of the 1960s, inflation of the 1970s, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the credit crisis of 2008, QE, and now negative interest rates. But FATCA is killing us. We have to turn away all clients with any U.S. contacts, even if they’re not U.S. citizens. Because if they have contact with the U.S., they may owe tax in the U.S. or be subject to the SEC. We could be attacked by the IRS or the SEC without doing anything wrong. And yet, the IRS has an office here in Zurich. Imagine that. A foreign country has a tax collection office in our city. It’s crazy.”
“If you don’t like it you can always leave!” This is the refrain of regime apologists who don’t understand global U.S. taxation. If only it were as easy as picking up and moving.
You are in the IRS crosshairs no matter where you go. Not only that, 2016 marks the advent of tax lockdowns. If the IRS decides you “owe” them $50,000 or more, it can revoke your passport. Your ability to travel is now subject to the IRS legal standard of guilty until proven innocent.
Continuing on, imagine what the reaction of the Founding Father tax rebels would be to this:
The U.S. regime extracts astronomically more taxes than any other government on the planet.
The IRS doesn’t just take more from people. It rakes in trillions more. Every single year.
A trillion is one thousand billion. That’s a far bigger number than most people fathom. One thousand seconds is 17 minutes ago, but one trillion seconds is 31,709 years ago. That’s hundreds of centuries before the pyramids were built.
Let’s compare Uncle Sam’s tax haul to other regimes. Look at this OECD data, and in the “Variable” drop-down menu select “Total tax revenue in USD.” You’ll see how staggeringly large the margin is over other regimes. No other jurisdiction even comes close. The “land of the free” averages 10x more on average.
Some may note that the U.S. has a bigger population than most other countries. True, but much of the regime’s spending goes to things that have nothing to do with population size. For example, China has over a billion more people than the U.S., yet the U.S. spends three times more on its military. And seven times what Russia spends at half the U.S. population.
Besides, that OECD data is just federal.
Not counted are the additional trillions extracted by state and local taxes.
Say you’re a hard-working high earner in California – a doctor or engineer, for example. You’re paying over 13% in state income taxes on top of 40% federal. That’s a combined rate of over 50%. (By comparison, Russia imposes a 13% flat tax on income.) Then pile on property taxes, capital gains taxes, sales taxes, and literally dozens of other taxes.
Taxing the Death of Foreigners
Ready for more global tax imperialism? The U.S. government imposes estate tax on NON-Americans.
If you aren’t familiar with the term, estate tax is the political term for death tax. You get taxed not because you bought something (sales tax) or earned money (income tax), but because you died.
Yes, the government taxes you for dying, even if you’re not American and have never set foot the United States. Non-Americans who own over $60,000 in U.S. situs assets — like Apple or Whole Foods stock — are charged a 40% tax upon death.
Note that we’re not talking capital gains tax like Americans pay on stock market profits. No, this is 40% of the total market value of the assets at the time of your death, even if you’ve lost money owning them.
No other country does anything so blatantly imperialistic and rapacious. The media never talks about death tax on non-Americans, so people get trapped by it all the time. They pass away and their accounts get locked down until their heirs pay off the IRS. This shakedown of course comes as an unimaginable shock to those grieving the loss of a loved one.
If you have non-American friends, help them out. Let them know that if they’re determined to own U.S. based assets like real estate or stocks, they can legally avoid death tax by owning the assets via entities that don’t die — in other words, a trust or corporation. (Get guidance from an experienced tax lawyer.) Or just keep things simple and opt out of owning U.S. situs assets altogether. Who needs the aggravation?
Have friends with green cards who no longer live in the U.S.? Make sure they know that until they get rid of their green card, they’re legally subject to global U.S. taxation.
Costs of Compliance
Sadly, the tax nightmare isn’t over.
You’d think any regime raking in trillions every year from people around the world would at least make the extraction process quick and efficient.
The U.S. tax code is by far the most cumbersome and complex in the world.
This may seem inconceivable to Americans, but in many countries it’s unheard of to use accountants, lawyers, or tax preparation companies like H&R Block to file taxes. They’re simply not needed.
Worse than the massive financial hit, the loss in quality of life and societal benefit is tragic. We’re talking 7.6 billion hours per year wasted on tax preparation and filing.
Let’s put 7.6 billion hours in terms we can understand. Assuming a standard 40-hour work week for 50 weeks per year:
It’s as if ALL of San Francisco, Seattle, Atlanta, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Miami, and Boston did nothing but tax preparation and filing year round.
And the regime has the gall to call it Tax Season. Hang the wreath and colored lights, extortionists are caroling at our door!
We’ll never know the amazing inventions and life-changing products the world has lost and will continue to lose to this perennial avalanche of waste. The compounded cost to humanity is tragic and incalculable.
“Fair” and “Share”
The government tells us that taxation is just “paying your fair share” of the regime’s operation. Let’s think that through…
Humans are miraculous sharers. It’s no mystery why that is. Unless you’re a sociopath, helping people feels good.
But taxation is compulsory. Compulsion isn’t sharing. Paying money to neutralize the threat of being kidnapped and caged is extortion.
There’s no spirit of goodwill when you’re being extorted, no matter where your money goes. On the contrary, taxation fosters resentment because it’s rooted in compulsion. Just because something is institutionalized by politicians doesn’t make it any less wrong.
Taxes are compulsory because the regime correctly assumes people won’t approve of how it uses our money. Otherwise taxation would be voluntary, like our payments to every other institution in the world — charities, clubs, religious organizations, schools, professional groups, guilds, societies, and every service on offer by millions of companies and individuals.
But what is civilized about extortion? Is funding WMDs, invasions, a predatory police state, mass surveillance, and bankster bailouts civilized?
Without the regime’s taxes, would we be skulking around in loincloths and carrying wooden clubs?
Would roads not exist? Or would people — you know, the ones who invented airplanes, light bulbs, televisions, air conditioning, radios, phones, refrigerators, antibiotics, and a million other miracles — somehow manage to lay down pavement and bring roads to the masses? If trillions in taxes weren’t sucked down the regime’s memory hole, who knows what new forms of transportation we’d have. Roads and traffic jams could be obsolete by now.
And fair? “Fair” is defined as whatever the regime decides to take from us.
Taxation isn’t just a racket. It’s the racket which funds all other political rackets.
Americans who take a nonviolent stand against the regime’s global extortion racket don’t get fined or have their savings confiscated. They get kidnapped and thrown in a cage. While I was researching this insanity, Irwin Schiff died, blind and chained to a bed at the age of 87 for his peaceful resistance to the system.
There’s another way to resist which doesn’t involve sacrificing yourself. Record numbers of Americans are legally ending their servitude to the regime. This is known as relinquishing or renouncing your citizenship. Relinquishment and renunciation are two separate but equally effective ways to never deal with the IRS again.
People who relinquish or renounce have to pay whatever taxes they already “owe” the IRS upon the day they end U.S. citizenship. This is the so-called “exit tax.” But ironically, the IRS permits a large tax shelter called the exclusion amount. The exclusion amount shields $690,000 from taxes per person. For example, a married couple can shelter $1,380,000 in what would otherwise be taxable gains. Apparently this tax break is a parting gift after a lifetime of extortion.
If you’re looking for greener pastures, there’s no such thing as utopia, but there are dozens of countries with less than half the taxes. And the money doesn’t fund invasions, global mass surveillance, or caging millions of nonviolent people in the world’s largest police state.
For Americans who relinquish or renounce, it’s even possible to pay zero income taxes and zero capital gains taxes. All it takes is establishing residency in one of the so-called tax havens, such as the Bahamas, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, Dominica, St. Barts, or Antigua and Barbuda.
None of these places require living there full-time. You can spend as much time as a welcomed tourist in other countries as you’d like without falling into another regime’s “tax net.” (That’s a tax lawyer term, not mine.) The length of permitted tourist stays per country varies. Usually it’s three to six months per country per year. The U.S. ranges from four to six.
Having visited most of these freedom-hating tax havens myself, I can say they’re absolutely irredeemable. Plagued by sunny tropical weather, littered with palm trees and fresh coconuts, overflowing with obnoxious umbrella cocktails, surrounded by sugary beaches and crystal turquoise waters… For your own safety, steer clear at all costs!
#1 HIVE OF BUREAUCRACY
Being bossed around isn’t something most Americans would own up to. Yet Americans are so bossed and beleaguered by bureaucrats it defies comprehension.
A primary reason for revolt listed in the Declaration of Independence was the British bureaucracy. The regime had “erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.”
How fitting that the American regime today consists of thousands of bureaucracies — so many it can’t even keep track of them all.
That’s just federal. There are literally thousands of state agencies and departments manned by millions of bureaucrats out to govern you. And they can’t be fired. Take a look at the “swarms” in California for example.
What does this all mean in practical terms? Everything in our daily lives is subject to government permission.
Here are a few examples among thousands. You’re a criminal if you don’t obey the regime’s orders against:
This all-pervasive legal matrix is enforced by bureaucrats who are paid more than those who fund their paychecks. Where else can you collect a six-figure salary for watching porn at the office? Or, at home?
It all seems laughably absurd until you realize that thousands of people are arrested every day for these and countless other infractions. Yes, you can be arrested for any act of non-compliance, no matter how trivial.
Being a “law-abiding citizen” is a myth. An impossibility. Again, the warning of law professor John Baker: “There is no one in the United States over the age of 18 who cannot be indicted for some federal crime. That is not an exaggeration.”
It’s a nightmare Catch-22: Ignorance of the law is no defense, even though it’s impossible to know the law. To add to the insanity, the “ignorance is no defense” standard doesn’t apply to cops when they arrest you.
The Mechanics of Control
All governments aspire to ever greater control of those who fund their existence. After all, politics is about control. But no other government manages this shocking degree of control over such a large population.
How does the regime pull it off? Laws. Money. Technology. But most of all, raw manpower.
22 million Americans work for federal, state, and local government.
That’s more than the entire populations of Ireland, Switzerland, New Zealand, Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, and Iceland…combined. This iceberg of unelected government is what some people refer to as the deep state.
Walmart handles 260 million customers around the world every single week. That’s 20 million more people than the entire adult population of the United States. Walmart does more business than 90 percent of the world’s economies. Yet Walmart’s a peon compared to the government.
Incredibly, this 22 million number is severely under-reported.
We’re talking about millions of people working for private companies whose biggest “customer” is the government.
In other words, millions of private sector paychecks are funded by taxpayer cash.
Do you fly in Boeing airplanes? Use Dell or IBM computers? Pump gas at Chevron or Valero? Use Google? Guess who the biggest customer of these companies is?
This vast shadow government workforce receives over half a trillion dollars per year. That’s more cash than Walmart’s total worldwide sales going to people who aren’t counted as government employees.
Now that we know the jaw-dropping 22 million number is a farce, what’s the real number? My guess is nobody outside the regime really knows. But if we take the 22 million base number, add the 2.5 million military employees, and think about how many people live off that $500 billion a year to government contractors…
The regime is likely the paycheck for 30-40 million of America’s 123 million full-time workers.
See why the status quo can’t meaningfully change without ground-shaking economic disruption? Corporate welfare and swarms of bureaucracies aren’t corruption. They’re the government’s blueprint for economic and social control.
That’s why meaningful change will never come from politics, no matter which party is in power. The system can’t tolerate fundamental change without severe economic dislocation. No politician gets power (or for that matter keeps breathing) by enacting policies which undermine this blueprint of control.
#1 FUNDER OF HEALTH EPIDEMICS
No regime subsidizes obesity more than the U.S. government. It hands out billions to giant farming corporations every year to grow the crops that are making Americans fat: corn, wheat, and sugar.
In 1980 the government started telling people how to eat by issuing official dietary guidelines. Here’s what’s happened since then.
Aside from the absurdity of paying farms to not grow crops, the government’s massive corn subsidies make corn artificially cheap for food manufacturers. This is why corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) are so pervasive in American foods. Even baby formula.
HFCS is probably the single most unhealthy ingredient in our food supply. Corn syrup is found in almost everything…cereals, breads, soups, sodas, sauces, ketchup, dressings, juice drinks, crackers, cookies, snack foods. It’s practically inescapable unless you’re relentlessly vigilant.
(By the way, if you use agave nectar in an effort to make a healthier choice, know that this health food impostor has even more fructose than high fructose corn syrup.)
As for wheat, there’s debate about why industrialized American wheat is so unhealthy. Maybe it’s the Roundup soaking, or the “enrichment” additives, or the dramatic alteration of wheat’s biochemical structure. My guess is all of the above.
Now let’s follow the money to see how those billions in subsidies affect people’s purchasing decisions. Look at the blue bars, particularly “refined grains” and the corn syrup laden “beverages” and “sugar and candies.”
The government’s massive corn and wheat subsidies have driven American obesity to record levels. Obesity is a mass killer which dramatically increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer – all full-blown epidemics wiping out thousands of Americans every day. It’s gotten so bad that even kids are suffering an epidemic of adult-onset diabetes.
As millions of Americans dig their graves with their mouths, the media dutifully keeps the public transfixed on the regime’s terrorism narrative, the mortal danger to civilization which kills fewer Americans than lighting strikes and cows.
The rest of the world is keenly aware of the American obesity epidemic. In my travels through Asia, I came across a wall of sticker graffiti. This one stood out:
The Hand That Feeds
The most direct way for a government to entrench and expand power is to make people’s survival literally depend upon the regime.
In other words, to be the hand that feeds millions.
We’re talking over 45.5 million people being fed by the regime.
Poor people buy inexpensive food with their SNAP cards, meaning products made with government subsidized wheat and corn syrup. In a case of tragic irony, this has caused poor Americans to be the fattest — and most at risk for obesity related diseases.
Guess where the poor turn to for help when they get sick? How sinister that Medicaid’s slogan is “Keeping America Healthy.”
The 45.5 million people on food stamps account for only one food program of many. The government also feeds millions of children in its National School Breakfast and Lunch Programs.
This is not emergency disaster relief. This is not charity. These are programs to condition dependency.
If you grow up literally being fed and schooled by the government, and pledging your loyalty to it every day, how can it not breed dependency?
Will you grow up to have a truly charitable instinct? Or will you expect the regime to be the provider to everyone in need?
As an adult, what basis will you have to object to every aspect of your existence being “regulated” by politicians?
What will you be able to do when the government is “messing with your life,” as Michelle Obama put it? Will you bite the hand that has fed you since childhood?
Government dependency is not charity. It is control.
A reasonable person might think that since the U.S. government extorts trillions more in taxes than any other government in the world, it would therefore have the least debt.
Not quite. Debt and taxes go together like drunk and disorderly.
What to do when $6.6 trillion per year is too skimpy for the regime to get by on?
Pile on debt. Federal, state, local — the more the
The feds have it the easiest. They claim a monopoly on the creation of money itself. That means the regime can act as its own creditor. We’re talking about the power to do seemingly impossible things like printing money in order to loan it to yourself.
That’s what actually happens. The IOUs are called Treasury bonds, and the U.S. government is the biggest buyer of them on the planet using money created by its bank, the Federal Reserve, aka the Fed. (Incidentally, federalreserve.gov is a wondrous site for curing insomnia, so at least there’s that.)
Yes, it’s really that absurd — printing billions in order to loan the money back to yourself.
In the race to insolvency, the U.S. regime trounces all other contenders, currently weighing in at over $19 trillion in federal debt.
Regime economists (the Fed employs hundreds of them) attempt to rationalize federal debt by talking about it as a percentage of GDP, but that’s a deceptive metric which relies on phony GDP calculations.
In any case $19 trillion is only part of a much bigger picture.
National Debt Is the Tip of the Iceberg
Since only the feds can print money, state and local debt has to rely on the government’s power to tax people. It uses that power to rack up trillions more in debt — $3 trillion in state and local debt to date.
The cherry on top? More like a bowling ball:
State public pension plans are underfunded by almost $5 trillion.
Notice the numbers I’m citing are more appropriate to the realm of astronomy than any manageable understanding of money. This keeps government finances at a completely abstract level, incomprehensible in any practical sense.
We have no basis in reality for understanding a billion any more than a trillion. You can’t see a billion of anything, much less 100 or 1,000 times that amount.
Were a bailout $6 trillion instead of $5 trillion, it might seem like an incremental difference, like paying $6 for a drink instead of $5. But if you tried to pay back that $1 trillion difference by handing over a $100 bill every second of every day — non-stop — it would take you over 317 years.
Not many people can last that long on no sleep.
Let’s attempt to get a sense of what $1 trillion would look like if we could actually see it, albeit from a helicopter.
Now try to image what the federal debt at 19 times that amount would look like.
Then add to that the additional trillions from state and local debt and unfunded pensions.
We can’t do it. Our brains can’t picture it. And that’s the point. Our inability to grasp the scope of the situation is what allows government finances to remain incomprehensible.
Just the way the regime likes it.
Government Money Is an Article of Faith
Abstraction is key to preserving the collective faith that dollars are valuable. When that faith falters one day, there will be nothing to break the fall. Such is the fate, sooner or later, of every fiat money.
Once a debt tipping point is reached, what typically follows is a hyperinflationary meltdown. Problem is, nobody can know the timing. That’s because faith in fiat money is a psychological phenomenon. There’s no scientific formula that predicts when people stop believing in the value of pieces of paper featuring dead politicians.
Americans’ shift to a debt-driven life indicates an intuitive understanding of what’s coming. Why save if the value of money itself is being wiped away?
In a hyperinflation people’s savings are rendered worthless as their money’s purchasing power evaporates. At some point the government hits the reset button and announces a new fiat money. For example, the Turkish Lira becomes the New Turkish Lira.
$200 Trillion in Bills Coming Due
Unfortunately our futile effort to visualize a few trillion dollars in debt doesn’t begin to capture the magnitude of the situation.
The United States government has $200 trillion in unfunded liabilities.
For those not familiar with the term “unfunded liability,” that incomprehensible sum represents money the U.S. government owes in the future but doesn’t have — I repeat, does not have — for making promised Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid payments.
That’s on top of the $19 trillion in national debt, $3 trillion in state and local debt, and $5 trillion in government pension plan obligations.
In the business world it’s an act of fraud to report a company’s debt without mentioning future bills you know are coming due.
Not surprisingly, states employ the same phony accounting as the feds.
Make the Billionaires Fix It!
Sorry. There is no “fix” for this regime-created disaster. It’s what happens when politicians are in charge of money. To say the debts are too big to repay is like saying a humpback whale won’t quite fit in your goldfish bowl. To illustrate:
Suppose the regime put the 400 richest American billionaires in lock-down and took everything they had. That means gobbling up the fortunes behind Google, Walmart, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, eBay, Starbucks, Nike, Intel, CBS, FedEx, Home Depot, Star Wars, and hundreds of other famous brands.
Then toss in all the fat cat billionaires people love to hate like the Koch brothers, George Soros, Rupert Murdoch, Warren Buffet, and Michael Bloomberg…
Now, what if every penny of those 400 billionaires was put towards that $200 trillion in bills that are coming due?
Wouldn’t even make a dent. A piddly 1.1 percent of the unfunded liabilities would be covered.
Inflation Is a Stealth Tax
Of course since the regime can create any quantity of money at the drop of a hat, it can simply “print” all those missing trillions in the future. (About 99% of all dollars are just computer entries anyway. They never actually get printed.)
But whipping up trillions of new dollars to repay debts and cover Social Security and Medicare bills will crush the purchasing power of existing dollars. It’s why you and I are forbidden by the regime from counterfeiting money. Money printing drains the purchasing power of everyone else’s savings. That’s why inflation (government counterfeiting) is considered a “stealth tax.”
Here’s what that stealth tax has done over the past century.
The government’s perpetual flooding of new dollars into the economy is why prices have gone up year after year. This mass rip-off may feel like a controlled bleed so far, but this unprecedented debt load combined with baby boomers’ retirement will not make for a gradual descent going forward.
No matter how many trillions of new dollars the government snaps into existence, it has no control over what those dollars will buy. Dollars cost nothing for the regime to “make,” but everything they buy takes labor and scarce materials to produce.
The huge decline in money’s purchasing power in recent decades is especially outrageous. That’s because astonishing advancements in computers, robotics, energy, agriculture, and materials have dramatically reduced the true costs of producing pretty much everything we use in our day-to-day lives.
That dollar graph above should be inverted. Prices should have been drifting down with all the efficiency improvements from tech breakthroughs, not grinding upwards.
Regime economists say that rising prices are key to “growth” — that if the goods we buy get cheaper over time, it will be a disaster for the economy. But really it’s just a disaster for the regime. Its tax system depends on money printing so that it can guarantee more tax revenue. Income and profits are calculated using a measuring stick that the government controls (money), and it rigs the measuring stick every time it injects new dollars into the economy.
People don’t get richer that way, but the regime does. In this sense “growth” is like a cancer.
The Big Squeeze
By devaluing the dollar over time with money printing, more and more wealth has been transferred to the government. Every time the regime prints new money, it gets to spend it first. That first-to-spend privilege shafts us, as that newly minted money goes to regime cronies. Once the new money works its way into the economy, the dollar debasement effect kicks in, lifting prices like a rising tide.
Net result? People get squeezed over the long run and feel pressured to take on debt to compensate.
That hasn’t worked out well. The baby boomer generation is retiring into $12 trillion in household debt. And the younger generations expected to keep the system going have $1.3 trillion in student debt alone. It’s no secret why young people today are the most stressed-out generation. They know they are getting steamrolled.
Take heed, baby boomers. If you’ve carefully budgeted your retirement assuming 2% compounded price increases for the rest of your lives, you may want to rethink that. Nobody knows the timing, but at some point there will be a psychological tipping point that forces the government’s hand. It will mean either mass bond defaults, or ruinous money printing to pay off debts with what will be worthless dollars.
That might sound alarmist, but it’s really just stating the obvious. You can’t keep stacking trillion upon trillion in debt indefinitely. It is unsustainable behavior, and nobody claims otherwise.
Sooner or later all unsustainable things stop.
We just need to keep reminding ourselves that Fed bureaucrats can print trillions in cash, but not a single blueberry, brick, car, or computer chip. Government money is an article of faith. It’s only exists as long as people believe in it.
Without that faith, the dollar is utterly useless. Sort of like a defunct cult, but without the hilarity.
Wealth Gap Engineering
People are gradually realizing that the government’s monetary system is a racket which systematically transfers wealth to the regime and its corporate cronies. This racket is the root of the staggering wealth gap.
The wealth gap is only going to widen further now that the Fed has driven real interest rates so low that they’re negative. “Negative real rates” just means the prices of things are rising faster than the interest a bank pays you for loaning it your money (i.e. making a deposit). The Fed did this to keep retiring baby boomers in the stock market instead of shifting their savings into bonds. In the past retirees could get a real positive rate of return just keeping money in a savings account or in a AAA-rated bond. Those days are gone.
Wanting the government to “fix the system” is like asking a python for a hug.
It is the system, and it’s set up to squeeze you.
People who aren’t aware of how the system operates think that poor immigrants who lack the regime’s permission to work (and are therefore “illegal”) are the source of their economic woes. They’re missing the elephant in the room. The 2008 financial crisis wasn’t brought about by people who pick strawberries and wash dishes for subsistence wages.
It’s easy to fool oneself into believing the status quo will continue steadily into the future. Our tendency to do that is called the recency bias. It’s much harder to keep reminding yourself that anything unsustainable eventually stops. Even bureaucrats piling on trillion after trillion in debt.
Need a break? Care for a spin?
#1 MANIPULATOR OF CAPITAL MARKETS
America is supposedly the land of capitalism, the exemplar of free market enterprise.
Guess who the titan of the American capital markets is?
Hint: It’s the guy who can “invest” in stocks and bonds buy printing billions of dollars to buy them.
Yep. Uncle Sham.
Most people think the U.S. stock market is the biggest financial market in the world. They don’t realize the bond market towers over the stock market.
Uncle Sham is the king of bonds.
The chart below is a 10-year record of the government’s money printing to buy its own bonds (U.S. Treasury securities). Don’t be fooled by the “millions” labeling on the chart. That’s millions of millions. In English they’re also known as trillions…
Let’s give these numbers some perspective. Imagine that the top 400 American billionaires pooled ALL their wealth together in order to purchase nothing but Treasury bonds. Even that vast sea of money would fall $170 billion short of matching the regime’s Treasury holdings.
But wait, there’s more.
The government has another couple trillion in other investment assets. Grand total?
When the regime dwarfs everyone else in the capital markets, how can that be called capitalism?
How can there be honest price discovery when the biggest “investor” can buy anything just by printing more money?
Whatever capitalism might be, this ain’t it.
Not surprisingly, all the real investors in the stock and bond markets hang on every word the Federal Reserve utters. “What will the Fed do?” is the burning question asked unrelentingly by fund managers and investment bankers.
Behold the urgency around the phenomenon known as “Fed watching.” Fed watching is when investment professionals spend their days trying to predict the Fed’s next manipulation of the economy. Will they raise rates? Hold steady? I can barely look!
Never before have bureaucrats’ words incited more hand wringing and tea leaf reading. Or caused more knee-jerk buying and panic selling of investment securities.
TIME magazine inadvertently said it all. The top Fed bureaucrat, Janet Yellen, has the entire U.S. economy “in her hands”…
There’s no point in mincing words:
The government is the 800-pound gorilla in America’s
capitalist fascist economy.
Understanding the F-Word
Fascism isn’t about boots or brown shirts. Fascism opportunistically adapts in look and feel to the times and culture.
Much ink has been spilled calling Donald Trump a fascist. But Trump’s political ascendancy is not a harbinger of fascism.
It’s a symptom.
The dark horse of fascism left the barn long ago. Let me explain.
At its core fascism is about two things — authoritarianism and nationalism. They are the two sides of the fascist coin.
Authoritarianism is about exercising full-spectrum power at the discretion of the regime. It means everything we do in our day-to-day lives is in some way subject to permission.
Whether you call it a law, regulation, statute, or ordinance, compliance with the regime’s countless orders is demanded under threat of punishment. We might refuse or be ignorant of those orders, but it’s at our own risk.
Law professor John Baker again: “There is no one in the United States over the age of 18 who cannot be indicted for some federal crime. That is not an exaggeration.” The professor’s warning is echoed in attorney Harvey Silverglate’s book Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent.
But authoritarianism goes far beyond using law and the threat of punishment to exercise control. The regime asserts its power to do anything it wants. Literally.
That can mean handing trillions in taxpayer dollars to banksters and other regime cronies.
Or murdering thousands of people for drinking a cocktail.
Or imprisoning people for any reason. Yes, any. Under U.S. law, giving food to a runaway slave was punishable by up to six months in prison. Today Americans can be disappeared to domestic black sites or summarily executed without trial.
Invasions? Coups? False flags? Assassinations? Torture? Internment camps?
Yes. Literally anything. It’s all been done.
And “the rule of law”? Irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if the regime’s actions are extrajudicial or within the confines of its legal system. When they aren’t legal, the regime just writes a memo or grants criminal exemptions. Or passes new laws to suit its ends. Or hides its actions altogether.
Most regime skeletons stay buried unless a rare whistleblower like Daniel Ellsberg or Edward Snowden risks his life. Or a secret document happens to be unearthed decades later. Otherwise who would believe the American government employed Nazi war criminals or tried to blackmail Martin Luther King into committing suicide?
Note that authoritarianism doesn’t mean the regime will necessarily act like a petulant tinpot tyrant. Uncle Sam wants happy, flag-waving citizens pledging allegiance at ball games and NASCAR races. The regime dislikes unrest, and it dreads wealthy taxpayers revolting. An uprising of poor black people in Ferguson is a PR hassle. An uprising by Wall Street is a nightmare.
That’s where nationalism comes in.
Nationalism Is Us
The purpose of nationalism is to condition self-identification with the regime.
The best way to keep people from revolting is to make them believe they are the government. Do that and people will tolerate more control than any king could ever get away with.
Nationalism camouflages authoritarianism by recasting government power as a collective endeavor. This is how the regime transfers the weight of moral culpability for its actions to the people. Notice how politicians constantly use the word “we” when talking about what the regime has done.
Nationalism is an emotional con. Politicians are masters at telling people what they want to hear. They are literally confidence artists who humbly call themselves “public servants,” while forcing us to serve them for “the greater good.”
Unfortunately, most of us spend our days doing jobs we don’t particularly like. We long for significance, a sense of greater meaning in our lives, a connection to something bigger. Politicians exploit these natural urges by telling us we’re part of a grand, larger-than-life project. People want to feel strong and significant. The regime is frighteningly strong and colossally large, so it’s a lot more comforting to self-identify with it rather than see it as predatory racket. Doesn’t take much to get people chanting.
The psychology in all this is simple but profoundly effective. Even intoxicating. You can fall in love with “your” government.
It’s called patriotism, and regimes exploit it relentlessly to divide and conquer.
I know some will say patriotism is the love of liberty, not the regime. But why not just say you love liberty? Conflating freedom with national identity paves the way for cataclysmic disasters. There’s a reason politicians wield the p-word constantly; the propaganda value is immense. People who describe themselves as patriots often emotionally well up when talking about “national greatness” and their so-called leaders. It makes the political jurisdiction they happened to be born in seem divinely chosen. It’s creepy-culty, and regimes love it because it secures people’s willingness to die for politics.
Breeding nationalism isn’t hard. Every day at school I swore allegiance to the government. Do anything thousands of times and it becomes second nature. Besides, when you’re constantly told you’re free, who doesn’t want to believe it?
Nationalism capitalizes on the fact that humans are instinctively tribal. Like a secular religion, cohesion is achieved through repetition of we-are-the-government rituals. Flags, songs, ceremonies, uplifting speeches, memorials, parades, fireworks, pledges, salutes, banners, slogans, uniforms, statues, museums, holidays…
And most importantly, elections.
The pretense of electing a handful of strangers to make up 0.001 percent of this institution we call the government is freedom theater. Elections are a flimsy curtain masking the world’s biggest racket.
As we’ll see in the #1 Propagandist section, the regime devotes unfathomable resources every year to condition our identification with it. Other regimes do this too, of course, but none remotely matches the production value and marketing spend of Uncle Sham.
Free Speech Is Fascism’s Best Friend
Unlike other ham-fisted democratic republics, the fact that the U.S. government openly tolerates verbal criticism is its greatest competitive advantage.
Freedom of speech! Yes, you get to moan and groan — as long as you comply. You’re free to complain, but you must obey regime orders no matter what.
By allowing people to vent their frustrations, the government inoculates itself from being pinned as a tyranny. See, we’re a free and open society! No matter what the regime does — invasions, secret kill lists, torture, mass stalking, jailing people without trial, the world’s largest prison-slavery complex, taxes by the trillions, crony bailouts — as long as people can complain about it, we’re free.
Free to complain. Forced to pay and obey.
It’s absolute genius. This is fascism 2.0.
If this all sounds surreal, it really shouldn’t. Fascist symbolism — literally, the fasces as a symbol of regime authority — has long been used by the U.S government.
Economically, American fascism is rooted in the regime’s monopoly power to create money, price fix interest rates, cartelize banking, grant trillion-dollar bailouts, enact oceans of regulations, and impose a global taxation system.
Unlike socialist and communist regimes, a fascist regime doesn’t try to subsume the market economy. Fascism takes more of a “minimum effective dose” approach to systemic control.
Fascism seeks to direct all traffic, but not own every car.
There’s a good reason for this. When people believe they’re free — that they are the government — they’ll work much harder and be far more resourceful. And the regime can tax them far more than any monarch ever dared.
It’s worth noting that some aspects of the U.S. regime are socialist. There’s no such thing as a regime that’s purely fascist, purely socialist, etc. Hybridization happens. But the socialist modality of control through direct ownership is more of a fallback position for the U.S. regime rather than its default mode of operation. The regime would rather, for example, set up a “non-profit venture capital firm” and then “invest” in a private cosmetics company in order to get its hands on our DNA.
So how does the U.S. government engender nationalism in practical terms? How does it reinforce the government-is-us mythology while in practice wielding system-wide control over the economy?
Simple: Cultivate dependency.
- Be the economy’s biggest employer.
- Be the biggest customer of the biggest corporations.
- Be the biggest lender to home buyers.
- Be the biggest “investor” in the capital markets.
- Be the hand that feeds millions.
- Be their health care provider.
- Be their teacher.
And of course permit private options to incentivize innovation and competition. (Don’t want the rich getting uppity). It’s a free country after all.
Regime dependency cultivates self-identification with the government and gets the rich, middle class, and poor under control.
American fascism is an iron fist in a velvet glove.
Inside the glove of dependency is a brutal arm of enforcement. The military-industrial complex, police state, prison-industrial complex, and mass surveillance all work together as a monumental matrix of control. It’s also a massive jobs program designed to camouflage the racket and insure against revolt. After all, it’s tough to get people to recognize wrongdoing when their paycheck depends on them not recognizing it.
Tragically, what is a career for so many is also a meat grinder destroying innocent people’s lives every day.
Governments co-opt the poor by making them dependent on the regime to survive. It undermines the cohesion of families, and in turn perpetuates more regime dependency.
The rich cost far more to bring to heel. Logrolling — that is, politics-driven favor trading — is how business in a fascist regime gets done.
Nobody does logrolling like the U.S. government. It’s a multi-trillion dollar racket.
The regime secures the loyalty of the rich by doling out billion dollar contracts, passing special interest laws, granting criminal exemptions, padding pockets with absurd pork spending, and bailing out politically important megacorporations.
Co-opting the rich is smart governing. It keeps everybody in check…and sending checks.
It’s great for the pols too. They quietly make millions: “Politicians never have to disclose job negotiations while in office, and never have to disclose how much they’re paid after leaving office.”
The entire bailout machinery was constructed to perplex and bamboozle the public. Who could keep track of the barrage of acronymed “programs”? TARP, TALF, HARP, TLGP, AMLF, CPFF, TAF, TSLF, HAMP, PPIP…
It was relentless.
Here’s a 266 page report if you’d like to attempt to decrypt what actually happened, despite subsequent reports of additional bailouts years later. Journalists who have tried to get to the bottom of what really happened have of course been brick-walled by the regime.
The permanent bailout state is a core fascist construct. Profits are privatized and catastrophic losses are socialized any time the status quo is at risk. Whenever the next crisis happens, the regime will run the racket all over again.
Of course the larger companies who received billions of dollars apiece were huge campaign donors to Bush and Obama, like Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, Citigroup, Bank of America, and Morgan Stanley…all the spokes of the Fed’s banking cartel.
Ben Bernanke, who oversaw the bailouts and ran the central bank leading into the crisis, is now getting paid $250,000 a speech. Must be wise words of wisdom from the man who kept telling everyone there was no housing bubble.
Bernanke awarded the biggest bailouts to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — almost $200 billion. They are GSE’s — government-sponsored enterprises.
A GSE is a curiously fascist construct. It’s a company that pretends to be private, even trading on the stock market. But GSE’s are specifically created and backed by the government to manipulate markets. In the case of the 2008 crisis, it was the American mortgage market.
Logrolling Beyond Wall Street
People get that Wall Street and the regime depend on each other. But the fascist symbiosis between government and the tech industry is less apparent to the public.
Google is a company whose business is, literally, mass surveillance. Most people have no clue that its biggest customer is the U.S. government, including the NSA.
Obama’s technical adviser is a former Google executive, and a bunch of the White House staff are former Google employees.
Google Chairman Eric Schmidt is funding a secretive tech startup called The Groundwork with the mission of getting Hillary Clinton elected. And one of Schmidt’s former Google executives is the Clinton campaign’s Chief Technology Officer.
Schmidt has funded at least three startup companies run by former Obama staffers. Having insider knowledge of Google’s top-secret analytics and search ranking algorithms will give Clinton’s campaign an enormous, possibly decisive, advantage.
(There are many ways to control elections with technology. Watch this computer programmer testify under oath that he was hired to write code to rig elections. Election hacking is an international service.)
The public of course will never have a full picture of the history of logrolling and favor-trading amongst Google, the government, and Schmidt. Suffice to say, Google lobbyists have been to the White House a whopping 230 times as of March 2015.
And Schmidt is now advising the Pentagon on “forging closer links between the U.S. military and Silicon Valley.”
While we’re on the topic of companies who spy on us, former NSA head Keith Alexander just raised $32.5 million for his new startup. Edward Snowden busted Alexander for lying under oath when he stated the NSA didn’t have the technical ability to access Americans’ emails.
Alexander of course faced no perjury charges and is now pulling in millions…while another person just got arrested for owning plant leaves.
FaceBook Sells You Out
Even when private corporations publicly claim to represent their customers’ interests, they often secretly collude with the government. Facebook has tried to rehabilitate its image over past spying violations, while secretly lobbying for legal immunity in order to stalk its users.
The Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) is what Facebook is lobbying the government to enact. “CISA would give companies like Facebook legal immunity for violating privacy laws as long as they share information with the government.”
A key government lawyer who worked on drafting CISA is, big logrolling surprise, now Facebook’s chief lobbyist pushing to get CISA passed.
Fascism’s Revolving Door
The revolving door of employment between industry and government facilitates logrolling. A poster boy for the revolving door is Michael R. Taylor, former Monsanto executive and current Deputy Commissioner for the Food and Drug Administration.
Taylor was instrumental in introducing Monsanto’s genetically engineered bovine growth hormone (rbGH/rbST) into America’s milk supply while approving of armed raids on Amish farmers and other raw, hormone-free milk suppliers.
Taylor was also a key advocate against labeling GMO ingredients. Obama appointed Taylor to oversee the safety of America’s food supply after making the following 2007 presidential campaign promise: “We’ll let folks know whether their food has been genetically modified because Americans should know what they’re buying.”
There’s no way to know which foods have been treated with Monsanto’s blockbuster weed killer, Roundup, flagged by MIT researchers as causing increased incidents of Parkinson’s, infertility, and cancer. Roundup is sold in conjunction with Monstano’s “Roundup Ready” seeds, which are genetically altered to withstand Roundup’s toxicity.
For several more examples across multiple industries of how the fascist logrolling process is facilitated by the revolving door between government and industry, check out these telling graphics.
Logrolling Is a Bipartisan Blast
The Bush regime was infamous for its billions in no-bid contracts to big oil and “defense” cronies. Cheney was CEO and Chairman of one of the primary beneficiaries of war, Halliburton. Military contractor executives across the board have had a payday bonanza, “earning” several thousand dollars per hour.
The no-bid contracts prompted a partisan outcry by Democrats. But as one would expect, under Obama the regime has carried on the no-bid torch.
Partisan blaming of course misses the point. None of this is a fault or error in the system. It is the system.
This is the nature of every racket. A very few benefit at the expense of everyone else. Big industry pays billions in taxes, donations, and payoffs — all things the political class depends upon — in exchange for the laws and billion dollar contracts that entrench big industry.
To want pols to pass laws stopping the system from serving them or their biggest supporters is a naive delusion. It’s like thinking laws prohibiting people from consuming alcohol and drugs will turn people into tea teetotalers.
It Takes Two to Tango, But the Regime Leads
Once the fascistic logrolling between government and industry is understood, we can see that so-called corruption is just the expected outcome of power-seekers having an institutional monopoly on law creation, enforcement, taxation, and money printing.
Unfortunately people confuse causality and think that corporations literally run the government. Corporations of course have no special moral halo, particularly the ones who service the regime. They will lobby and bootlick to gain any advantage, and it works. But to think that companies are the carriage rather than the horses is to confuse cause and effect. Sure MacDonald’s, Walmart, Microsoft, and the rest want to make tons of money, but they have no power to jail people for not buying their products.
Logrolling is fascism’s secret sauce. Government and big business grow together symbiotically. Businesses work whatever angle they can to their benefit, and the regime gets the economic wonders of entrepreneurial innovation and market competition which socialism and communism suppress.
Powermongers of the world, take note. Fascism is where the money’s at.
The more intertwined a company is with the regime, the more cash and protection it receives. For the rest of the big corporate players, it’s mostly a game of who can win the regime’s favor. It’s a perverse sort of competition. Queue lobbyists, fundraisers, campaign donations, junkets, six-figure paid speeches, rich consulting gigs, fat post-term of office job offers, directorships, and foundation donations.
Cronies will kneel and kiss the ring of power any way they can in order to secure regime favor.
Logrolling Hearts Regulations
Massive regulatory complexity is a gift to the biggest corporations who have full-time legal, accounting, and HR staffs. They can afford to bear the legal, accounting, and HR costs of compliance while upstarts and would-be competition get quietly choked out.
For example, most people who hate Walmart aren’t aware that Walmart actively lobbies the regime to keep raising the minimum wage. Doing so staves off competition, especially local mom ‘n’ pop stores, while letting the regime claim a phony moral victory. Win-win.
Virtually every giant corporation lobbies the government to widen the regulatory moat in order to keep competition at bay and strangle market diversity. It’s all part of the logrolling. Big business takes marching orders from the government in exchange for further legislation to hurt smaller competitors and discourage would-be upstarts.
It’s wealth gap engineering 101.
Up next we’ll see how law itself is at the core of the whole rotten system.
Annoyed that power-craving assholes rule the world? Me too.
#1 LEGAL MORASS
Laws are the rules politicians make up. Criminals are the people who break their rules.
Most of those rules have nothing to do with what everybody agrees is wrong: murder, assault, and theft. That’s why victimless crime accounts for most of the federal prison population.
The moral code we learn in kindergarten — don’t hurt people or take their stuff — bears little resemblance to U.S. law or its enforcement. The regime’s legal morass is hundreds of thousands of pages of rules written in legalese. You and I can’t understand it, and we’re not supposed to. It is a mechanism for political control, the engine that drives what we’ll cover next, the police state and the prison-industrial complex.
Whether you’re in a lab coat, combat fatigues, or a police uniform, the law is used to rationalize grotesque acts of all sorts. “It’s the law.” “Hey, I don’t make the rules.” “Just following orders.” “Just doing my job.”
Often laws are just a liability shield for committing theft, assault, and murder — the very acts the public thinks laws are in place to prevent.
Over the past few decades, American politicians have constructed the largest, most complex legal system in history. It’s literally hundreds of thousands of pages of incomprehensible rules. Thousands more are added every year.
If you had even more years to spare, there are thousands more pages of legalese waiting to fill your days. Slog your way through all the executive orders, ratified treaties, county and city ordinances, and rulings from district courts to the Supreme Court.
Only then can you say you’ve read the law of the land.
It’s no wonder millions of nonviolent Americans get thrown in cages and almost 80 million have criminal records.
It’s worth saying again and again: Being a law-abiding citizen is a myth. I’ve committed law professor Baker’s warning to memory: “There is no one in the United States over the age of 18 who cannot be indicted for some federal crime. That is not an exaggeration.”
How to Ruin Your Life
Politicians have turned us all into unwitting criminals, and cops are trained to snare us. It’s for this reason that lawyers tell their clients, over and over, in no uncertain terms:
Don’t talk to cops. Don’t answer their questions or try to explain yourself, even if you think you’ve done nothing wrong.
Calmly say, “Officer, I do not answer questions. Am I being detained?” If they say no, walk or drive away.
If you are detained, refuse politely but firmly to be questioned without a lawyer present.
Why do I emphasize polite? Because cops are in a special position to ruin your life. Even though you’re forced to pay their salaries, they’re not your employee to reprimand or fire. Speaking in a provocative or confrontational manner increases the odds that you will be victimized.
A cop who doesn’t like you can say you attacked him, and then beat and electrocute you. That will be followed by arresting you for assaulting an officer and resisting arrest. If you aren’t lucky enough to have video to prove your innocence, you can spend years in prison and have a criminal record barring you from employment by most businesses. Even if you do have video proving your innocence, you still end up bloody and broken and spending thousands on legal fees.
Not conversing with police is easier said than done. Cops are specifically trained to pressure you into talking to them. They are professional interrogators. They will insinuate guilt to tempt you to defend or justify yourself. It’s a trap. You’re not a professional at fielding their questions, so don’t get suckered into trying.
Nonviolent people never expect to end up behind bars, yet millions have been caged. They’re always so shocked: “But I didn’t do anything wrong!” Please, don’t take my word for it. This advice can save your life.
The Insanity of Law
Once you get mired in the regime’s legal system, it’s an unpredictable nightmare. Victimless crimes often carry far harsher sentences than raping and killing people. It’s as evil as it is insane.
It’s awful and infuriating, and books could be filled with examples like these.
Thousands of people have been condemned to life sentences for minor offenses such as shoplifting clothes or stealing a car radio.
Yet Pentagon employees aren’t even prosecuted for child porn.
Although the law is utterly incomprehensible, ignorance of it is not a defense when you’re targeted by the regime. The regime’s legal system is rigged against you. Your chance of conviction is around 90 percent.
On top of that, prosecutors can threaten you with life imprisonment for a minor crime if you don’t forfeit your right to a jury trial.
In the land of the caged, justice means almost everyone pleads guilty, innocent or not.
#1 POLICE STATE
Laws are the rules politicians make up. But laws don’t mean anything without the threat of guns and cages to back them up.
Detecting non-compliance with politicians’ rules is what the government calls enforcement.
Protected to Death
American police kill citizens at a rate which towers over other nations.
The feds track and record us, but they don’t track or record how many people cops kill. Individuals are heroically trying to cobble the information together into public databases such as Fatal Encounters and Killed By Police.
The killings are often of unarmed people who pose no threat to officers.
The punishment asymmetry between cops and civilians is mind-blowing.
Kelly Thomas didn’t attack or injure any of the cops who tortured him. But imagine what would happen if someone assaulted a cop in a drunken rage and then bit the officer’s testicles. What would be the more likely destination — prison or the morgue?
When a cop did exactly that to a civilian, the consequence wasn’t prison or a permanent coma. It was job dismissal.
Framed into a Cage
People get tortured into false confessions. They get framed in extortion rackets. Framed by faked forensic science… Framed by planted evidence… Framed by thousands of falsified forensics tests… Framed by fabricated lab results… And framed to cover up officers’ crimes — even planting drugs on innocent people they’ve gunned down.
How many thousands of incidents will we never find out about?
One thing is certain. Knowing how the law works and what prison is really like, if cops were at high risk of being caught and punished, it’s unlikely their predatory behavior would be so rampant.
Special Laws Protect Cops But Nobody Else
Regime employees in many areas get special privileges and protections. But you might be wondering how cops can get away with so much wrongdoing.
Simply put, they’re a legally protected class. The regime has established multitudes of special laws which shield police from liability for their actions and exempt them from the tactics they use on everyone else.
In most states officers are exempt from being questioned until they’ve been given a few days to get their stories straight.
Many states have passed laws, such as Section 50-a of New York’s Civil Rights Law, that are specifically designed to make it almost impossible to obtain, much less use at trial, records of a police officer’s prior incidents of brutality.
What do these special rules and protections for police mean in practice?
It means they can raid innocent people’s homes, kill them, and suffer no consequences.
It means an officer can haul off and kick a seated woman in the face, be convicted of felony battery, get handed a 10-year sentence, and…
It means that even when cops are caught and prosecuted, they’re not the ones who pay for their brutality. Everyone else does. In Chicago it costs taxpayers $168,000 per day.
It’s no surprise that American cops are filmed in more cases of police brutality than any other country. People, including journalists, are often arrested for rolling their camera, which is sometimes smashed on the spot.
Recently a federal judge ruled that it’s illegal to film cops unless the filming is accompanied by “challenge or criticism.” I doubt it was lost on the judge that challenging a cop is a great way to invite a beating. Even when cops are recorded on security cameras abusing disabled people and stealing property, they claim the recording violates their rights.
911 Won’t Keep You Safe
What about all the bad guys out there? Without cops who would be there “to protect and serve” us? The truth is cops rarely stop violent crimes in progress like murders, rapes, and home invasions.
Dialing 911 is not a survival plan. Sometimes 911 takes several minutes to answer, or there’s no pick-up at all. Or you’re informed by the operator, “I really just don’t give a shit what happens to you.”
Here’s the bottom line: Less than 5 percent of all police dispatch calls are made quickly enough for officers to stop a crime or make an arrest.
If life-threatening violence is ever visited upon you, your survival will depend on your ability to defend yourself. If you’re in immediate danger, you will likely end up a victim if you dial 911, have a conversation about what’s happening, and then wait 7-30 minutes for cops to show. That’s an eternity when somebody is bent on hurting you. And when cops do finally show, they may end up killing you or innocent bystanders instead.
If you care about your own safety and the safety of loved ones who may be physically unable to counter an attack, learn how to defend yourself. And try out Cell411 and Guardian Circle. They are security crowdsourcing apps which have the potential to revolutionize emergency assistance.
The Law Enforcement Racket
You can’t count on cops to protect you from violent crime, but what about theft? Will they at least protect your stuff?
Quite the opposite. Law enforcement takes more of people’s property than burglars.
Rather than protecting you and your property, most of the day-to-day focus of cops amounts to harvesting revenue for the government by issuing billions of dollars in tickets every year.
The professionals who build our homes, feed us, and clean up after us truly deserve a heartfelt thanks for their service. They actually deliver the value they claim to provide, and their jobs are far more dangerous than being a cop.
Of course cops in other countries are capable of victimizing people too. But the U.S. police state is fundamentally different.
The default criminalization of Americans via the black hole of U.S. law, combined with the militarization of police, their special legal protections, their extraordinarily lenient treatment by prosecutors and judges, their power to cage people without trial, and their take-no-prisoners approach (many are former soldiers) have proven to be a deadly and disastrous combination.
#1 PRISON-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX
Once you become a target of the police state, your next stop is likely what the government calls corrections.
The police state “enforces.” The prison system “corrects.”
Think prison is essentially a holding tank for thieves, rapists, and murderers?
Not even close.
Victimless “crime” accounts for an estimated 86 percent of the federal prison population.
In practical terms, this means that over the past few decades, millions of Americans who have hurt no one have had their lives ruined being locked away in cages.
We’re All Criminals — Some of Us Just Haven’t Been Caught
The “land of the free” is the most imprisoned nation in the world on both a total and per capita basis. By a long shot…
Uncle Sham cages people at 5 times the rate of other nations.
The U.S. correctional system is a world unto itself that’s larger that the population of most countries. 7.3 million Americans are currently in the system.
These “correctional facilities” are often dungeons of rape and torture perpetrated both by inmates and guards. If you want to turn the majority of inmates who are locked up for victimless, nonviolent crime into actual bad guys, the regime’s correctional system is the place to do it.
In fascist fashion, the prison-industrial complex is a boon for government and industry.
Every prisoner is a source of employment and tax revenue for the complex. And though most prisons are government owned and operated, in fascist fashion, private prisons are coming online all the time, led by Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group. In fascist logrolling fashion, they lobby the regime to make sure it keeps their facilities stocked up with profitable inmates.
Every inmate needs to be guarded, housed, fed, clothed, transported, and provided medical care. New prisons are continually being built to keep up with the influx of inmates (but not fast enough, as solitary confinement cells are being turned into murder-boxes.) And then a vast bureaucracy is required to track and administer the millions of people on parole and probation (an awful ordeal in itself).
Slavery Is Still Legal…If You’re the Regime
People go to college expecting to secure employment opportunities post graduation. But few students are aware that they are competing for employment with prisoners who are, as the Virginia Supreme Court ruled in Ruffin v. Commonwealth, “slaves of the State.”
Yes, thanks to the Constitution, America is still home of the slave. The 13th Amendment spells out the legalities of regime slavery:
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States…
While Texas and Georgia slaves receive zero pay, in Nevada inmates get 13 cents per hour.
A fascist poster-boy in the prison-industrial complex is Federal Prison Industries, which has since changed its name to UNICOR. It’s a government corporation which administers a large portion of the prison slave labor system, where in some states there’s quasi slave-pay starting at 23 cents an hour.
Billions are made on products produced by prison slave labor. Work is being done for subcontractors to Dell, Whole Foods, Boeing, Starbucks, Victoria Secret, Walmart, Costco, Microsoft, and others.
Most people don’t fully grasp what mass surveillance is. Let’s start by cutting through the jargon.
Mass surveillance is stalking. It’s the non-consensual tracking and recording of millions of innocent people’s private lives.
Mass surveillance can be done by private individuals, companies, or governments.
Thanks to Edward Snowden, we know the U.S. regime operates the world’s most pervasive and invasive mass surveillance apparatus.
Uncle Sham is the world’s biggest stalker.
Yes, the regime is stalking you. Bureaucrats can peer at the smallest details of your life while oogling your genitals. Of course we’re forbidden from knowing how this gargantuan stalking complex operates. It’s insane — Americans are forced to pay for being stalked.
Snowden warned us that the regime’s mass surveillance complex is “the greatest weapon of oppression in the history of man.”
Yet tragically, most Americans are clueless.
Sure, plenty of people would object to being stalked by the government. But how many care enough to actually change their habits and use encryption?
If not, here’s why you might reconsider:
Now that you understand that it’s impossible to know the law
Now that you realize you’ve likely committed multiple federal offenses
Now that you see why if you’re ever accused of a crime, you’ll likely plead guilty even if you’re innocent
Now that you know millions of Americans work as caged slaves despite having hurt no one
With this grim reality in focus, let’s stop thinking of mass surveillance simply as a matter of “privacy.” A Peeping Tom is creepy but doesn’t arrest, cage, and enslave people.
Instead, recognize that mass surveillance is a direct threat to your personal freedom. The stalking isn’t just about bureaucrats spying on their love interests or passing around your nude pics. It’s about detecting your non-compliance with the regime’s laws.
Since the law is unknowable for us and everybody unwittingly breaks laws on a regular basis, mass surveillance gives government exponentially more power to detect our non-compliance.
And it isn’t just about stalking you right now, in the moment. It’s also the permanent recording of your data to be used against you any time in the future for any reason the regime decides.
See how incredibly sinister it is? If (when) the political climate changes, you can be datamined and targeted.
It could be something about your religion, your race, your ethnicity, your sexual preferences, your consumption preferences, your financial means, your political beliefs, your friends, your organizational affiliations, your DNA…really, anything. The point is it’s impossible to know.
To passively accept mass surveillance is to put your head on the chopping block and wait for the ax to fall.
Recognize mass surveillance for what it is: an invisible war being waged against you. The regime will never stop lying about it.
Hopefully it’s obvious that mass surveillance isn’t about terrorism. That’s the only excuse the regime can muster in hopes of fearing people into submission. It’s called security theater. You’re in danger! We need to
stalk protect you or you’ll die!
If you appreciate the risks Snowden took to expose mass surveillance, please follow his advice. Replace Skype, Dropbox, Facebook, and Google with surveillance-free alternatives. My step-by-step guide for non-tekkies explains how.
Does this all seem surreal? Hard to believe? It is for me.
This optical illusion is hard to believe too, but it’s fascinating instead of a freaking nightmare.
A warmonger is defined as one who “wants a war or tries to make other people want to start or fight a war.”
Every regime says it wants peace. And every time a regime wages war, it proclaims it a “just war.” The only viable option. No other choice. A matter of “our” survival.
Just war theory is a scam used by regimes throughout the ages to justify ordering people to murder each other.
No government ever proclaims, “We’re waging an unjust war of aggression.”
There’s always, always, always a political narrative for why war is, regrettably, absolutely necessary. When a regime wants war, it’s going to happen.
Nobody explains it better than Nazi politician and military commander Hermann Goering:
Why of course the people don’t want war…neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along…. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked… It works the same way in any country.
We all know politicians are professional liars. The best ones can project sincerity and good intentions as well as any Hollywood actor.
So how do we deal with liars? Ignore their words and look at their actions. When we do, we see that despite all the proclamations about being a model of peace and goodwill for the world, the American regime has long been the #1 warmonger on the planet.
The U.S. government started 201 out of the 248 armed conflicts since World War 2.
Please let that sink in.
The Golden Rule of Bombs
If you knew a regime was planning to drop a bomb that would destroy your home and kill you and your family, you’d probably turn antiwar real fast. Turns out very few people want to be bombed.
In the past 70 years, how many regimes have dropped bombs on the United States?
How’s Uncle Sham done at following the Golden Rule of not bombing others? Over the past 70 years, these are the countries the American government has bombed:
Every time the government has ordered the bombs to drop, rest assured it was always done in defense. By that logic Americans can expect to be barraged by bombs in the future so that other regimes can defend themselves too. It’s the Golden Rule of Bombing.
It’s More Than Dropping Bombs
Warmongering isn’t just about full-scale invasions of countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, or Vietnam. It’s any time a politician sends men with guns, bombs, or other killing devices abroad in order to impose the regime’s agenda there.
Just imagine the response if Germany or China or Saudi Arabia sent a bunch of soldiers and weaponry to America and announced, “We’ve decided, for reasons of defense, that we’re planting a military base in Houston.” Americans would go insane. But the U.S. regime does this with 800 bases around the globe.
The hundreds of bases are just the beginning. In 2015 alone the regime deployed Special Operations military forces to 147 countries.
The government feeds the war-blowback cycle by inciting violence in order to create a “terrorist producing factory.”
Blowback is a desired outcome, not an unintended consequence.
Former Marine Vincent Emanuele explains in his account, “I Helped Create ISIS”:
I routinely saw and participated in obscenities… Innocent people were not only routinely rounded-up, tortured and imprisoned, they were also incinerated by the hundreds of thousands…
It’s critical to remember: There was no ISIS before the U.S. invaded the Middle East. The invasion drove millions from their homes and terrorized and slaughtered countless innocents. To not count the victims makes it possible for a million casualties to be swept under the rug of public awareness.
While ISIS goes out of its way to publicize its violence, the U.S. regime goes out of its way to hide its violence. That doesn’t make government terrorism any less real or deadly to its victims.
How many Americans have ever stopped, turned the tables, and considered how you’d respond to fleeing your destroyed home and burying your loved ones while an invading regime proclaimed to the world that it was doing you a favor?
Others around the planet have considered that question. They point to the United States as the #1 threat to world peace.
Regime Terror Hides Behind Language
201 out of the 248 armed conflicts were started by the U.S. government… That’s 81 percent for a country representing 4 percent of the world’s population. Most of the countless dead are civilians – what the regime calls “collateral damage.”
Dear sociopaths: No innocent mother, father, son, or daughter is collateral damage.
They are murder victims.
There’s a hugely important lesson here. Any time we hear the regime use convoluted jargon, it’s a sure sign we’re being force-fed bullshit to cover up evil.
Collateral damage… Extraordinary rendition… Quantitative easing… Civil asset forfeiture… Disposition matrix… Advanced interrogation techniques…
Political language is designed to confuse, bore, and bamboozle us into not recognizing when the regime commits predatory acts of violence. Because politicians can’t claim with a straight face that they have a special exemption from morality, they hide behind political language and hope people don’t notice.
One of the more powerful linguistic deceptions used by the regime is definition inversion — reversing the meaning of words to suit the regime’s ends. Once the meaning of a few key words has been reversed, people can no longer think straight. They’re easily mislead and confounded.
For example, every shot fired, every missile launched, every bomb dropped, every invasion, every coup, every occupation, is always and everywhere…defense. By labeling every attack as defense, any degree of barbarism can be justified by the regime as “worth it.”
Another powerful linguistic deception is definition dilution — in other words, watering down the gravity, impact, and specificity of monumentally important words.
For instance, virtually no American hears the word war and thinks, “The nightmare scenario where politicians order huge numbers of complete strangers to murder each other.” Today war just means a challenge or a political program marketed for the “greater good” (while having the opposite effect). The War on Drugs… The War on Poverty… The War on Illiteracy… The War on Terror…
The subversion of language in order to camouflage wrongdoing and undermine clear-headed thought has been an unmitigated success for warmongers.
Terror in Perspective
Let’s put the regime’s warmongering in perspective. We’re told the invasions, occupations, and trillions spent are to keep us safe, rather than all but guaranteeing retaliatory attacks.
Meanwhile, Americans are succumbing to imminent, deadly threats on a daily basis. Over a quarter million Americans are killed every year by medical errors.
- There’s a 9/11 every month in car accident deaths.
- Even worse are suicides — fourteen 9/11s per year.
- A 9/11 every 2 weeks from diabetes…
- And every 48 hours from cancer…
- And even more from heart disease, the leading killer of Americans (over 600,000 victims annually)
These threats account for a tidal wave of death — over a million Americans per year.
Yet non-government terrorism utterly dominates the regime mouthpiece media day after day.
So why the media horror show? You can’t scare the pants off people and sell perpetual war by telling them that smoking, eating junk food, living a sedentary lifestyle, driving while distracted, or having a negligent doctor are an exponentially greater danger than terrorism.
The mainstream media reports what the regime talks about, and the regime talks about terrorism every day. There will be no daily White House press conferences telling us that wielding a smart phone behind the wheel of a car poses a far more deadly threat to fellow Americans than terrorists.
The Regime Is Winning
The military-industrial complex needs perpetual fear to get people to tolerate, and ultimately depend upon, perpetual war.
Informing people that the risks of terrorism pale in comparison to risks we can personally control is bad statecraft. Terrorism feeds a feeling of anxiety and helplessness, stoking the rescue reflex to beg the regime to “do something.” It’s a tactic which advances the agenda of terrorists, but also creates a deeply perverse incentive for the regime to permit attacks to happen, and even encourage them.
Contrary to popular belief, the U.S. regime is winning the war on terror. It’s getting everything it wants out of it. The losers are the American people who pay for it and the countless victims who are maimed and killed in the bloody war-blowback cycle.
The greatest irony is the United States is essentially invasion-proof compared to other nations. The U.S. has, by an overwhelming margin, the highest per capita rate of private gun ownership in the world.
Even if the entire military were all but disbanded, no other regime could even begin to occupy America. There would be non-stop insurgency, and hundreds of millions of privately owned weapons to back it up. Look at how the U.S. regime has struggled year after year to control Iraq and Afghanistan, both of which have a fraction of the population and far less gun ownership.
Soldiers, Who Benefits When You Serve the Regime?
I realize many people enlist in the military out of a desire to protect others. Or for the “free” education.
Soldiers, the politicians who order you to go kill strangers across the globe are doing it for the benefit of the regime and its corporate vassals.
You’re defending fascism, not freedom. It’s a giant racket.
You might say, “No, I’m in the military to defend the Constitution!” Here’s the problem. The Constitution is a political document. It won’t get in your face and demand to know if you’re disobeying a direct order. It won’t haze, persecute, or fire you. It won’t launch an investigation of you for challenging the constitutionality of the regime’s policies. It won’t court-martial you for insubordination. It won’t apply overwhelming physical and psychological pressure to drive your compliance.
No matter what your personal beliefs are about the Constitution, virtually everyone obeys the chain of command. Virtually everyone complies.
If you don’t believe your service to the regime is perpetuating a war-blowback cycle, ask yourself this:
Would you be comfortable sending a loved one to walk the streets of Iraq or Afghanistan wearing an American flag t-shirt? After 13+ years of
liberation invasion and occupation, turn the tables. What would your response be if your home was rubble and you had buried your family members?
If you’re not a pacifist, should you expect others to be?
As long as you kill at the command of politicians, the blowback and bloodshed will never cease. That arrangement works great for the regime. And it works great for private terror groups like ISIS which have emerged in response to the invasions and occupations. But is your service to the regime in the best interests of your family or anyone else you care about?
To every soldier in the world: If you want to keep your loved ones and your community safe, quit being a government pawn. Stay home and keep your gun skills current. Defend yourself and those you love in accordance with your conscience, not politicians’ orders. They’ve never had your best interests at heart, and they never will.
Walk away. Stop following politician’s orders to kill people. Do it for the good of everyone you care about and for your own health and sanity.
Get out before it’s too late.
Dying From the Inside
Soldiers suffer horrific PTSD as a result of pols sending them thousands of miles away to kill people they’ve never laid eyes on.
This gut-wrenching letter from Army veteran Daniel Somers sheds light on the dehumanization soldiers suffer serving the regime.
Even when soldiers physically survive their “service,” many never mentally recover. “My dad went from this stud — athlete, funny — just awesome, awesome dad…to barely human cause he’s so whacked out of his mind.”
Many others live the rest of their days in physical agony.
Soldiers, I have family and friends who have served the military. I understand that your commander may care about your well-being, and I don’t deny the powerful bonds people forge when they trust their lives to each other. But the regime you serve doesn’t actually care about you. You’re a tool for its political ends.
Just look at the long history of the regime purposely poisoning soldiers and experimenting on them like lab rats. If you’re in the military or know anybody who is, please share this information so others can know how expendable soldiers are to the regime:
I hold onto the hope that soldiers worldwide wake up to the fact that serving politicians doesn’t serve your community or loved ones. It serves the regime, and makes a few people very, very rich.
Walk away from this blood-soaked racket.
Dehumanizing Regime Killing
The government is furiously working on removing the human element from its invasions and occupations. PTSD and soldier suicides are terrible press. But even when soldiers kill people with drones controlled from air-conditioned offices in America, it still doesn’t stop the anguish.
Unless you’re a sociopath, murdering innocents tears you up from the inside out.
For the regime, the solution isn’t to abandon the military-industrial racket. It’s to replace soldiers with robots.
Boston Dynamics (owned by Google) already has robotic “dogs” training with the Marines. And the humanoid Atlas Robot can navigate rough terrain, carry items, and take a hit.
Robotic soldiers and autonomous killing machines will do the dirty work on the ground in the regime’s future wars.
Robots don’t get PTSD. They don’t burden the horrible VA “health care” system or burn themselves alive in protest. They don’t file law suits or become pesky whistleblowers that need to be shut down. They don’t take disability compensation. And they don’t leave behind grieving loved ones to bury them.
The automated killing era is military-industrial godsend. Regimes are already taking turns using each other as an excuse for an arms race. Drone tanks. The Black Knight. The Gladiator. Russia’s ratchet response. Sub-hunting drones to counter dirty-bomb subs. They endlessly feed off each other.
Mutually Assured Hacking
All unmanned killing machines are issued commands remotely via computer. Where there are computers there are hackers, and many highly skilled hackers work for governments. The opportunities for false flag attacks are endless.
No government can make computerized systems hack-proof. There are too many variables, too much complexity, and too many points of failure. If a 16-year old can hack the FBI and DHS along with the email of the head of the CIA, assume that there are more attacks happening all the time which don’t get publicly announced. Of course any catastrophic attack facilitated by hacking will be used by the regime as further rationale to up the ante even more.
There’s no reason why this virus attack which shut down a nuclear plant won’t see even more virulent variations used by other governments and private organizations to wreak havoc. The suitcase dirty bomb scenarios people worry about pale in comparison to what hacked nuclear drone subs could do.
Mutually assured destruction is not a reliable deterrent. Accountability for hacking-based attacks can be hidden or framed on others. Besides, some people actually want civilization as we know it to ignite in flames. And in the end, all acts of government terror and private terror are perpetrated by individuals. “How could [fill in the disaster] have happened?” It happened because individuals are capable of anything. The more power is centralized in the hands of a few, the more destruction can be wreaked upon the rest of us.
This arms race of automated killing machines will fuel a perfect storm of fear and paranoia. The military-industrial complex will exploit the hysteria mercilessly.
Predator drones were just the opening salvo. It has no end. It’s not meant to. This is the racket. It will one day destroy humanity if people don’t innovate better ways to resolve conflict. (Thankfully they are, as we’ll see.)
I totally understand if you’re doing this
Please hang in there — good news is coming!
#1 MILITARY-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX
Now we turn to the business of war, the so-called military-industrial complex.
Why is America the world’s #1 warmonger? Because no other regime benefits so much from war.
Marine General Smedley Butler contributed our greatest insight on war and why regimes seek it.
Untold quantities of money and brainpower have been channeled into advancing technologies for control and destruction, always in the name of defense.
How the Racket Operates
The economics of the war racket is based on supply and manufactured demand.
Honest commerce is about fulfilling real individuals’ economic demands, like wanting lemonade or a hat on a sunny afternoon.
But in a racket, demand is fraudulently manufactured.
For instance, if I were a sociopath who owned a crutch business, I could manufacture demand by employing thugs to break people’s legs or by icing up sidewalks in the winter.
So it is with the war-for-defense racket. Create the problem; then be the solution.
This isn’t unique to the United States. Any regime that wants war will manufacture a way to get it.
Politicians are masters of fear. They understand the psychology of terror better than anyone. Remember President Bush’s “mushroom cloud“ speech, where he said not invading Iraq would be waiting for America to be hit by a nuclear bomb?
When the regime wants war, it will tell any lie and do anything necessary to get it. Take a look at Secretary of “Defense” Rumsfeld brainstorming manufactured reasons for invading Iraq: “US discovers Saddam connection to Sept. 11 attack or to anthrax?”
Our Costs Are Regime Benefits
Once the war machine has been set loose, business goes into overdrive for the MIC (military-industrial complex). Its influence spreads like a tumor. The business of war works its way deeper and deeper into the economy. The pressure on the regime to keep manufacturing “demand” only grows. Corporate revenues, taxes, employment, the regulatory bureaucracy — they’re all a huge win for the regime.
Just look at this new $13 billion war ship. To build one of these, how many thousands of people does it take? How many contractors and subcontractors and raw material suppliers? Just welding it together takes 4 million pounds of metal.
Some will defend building WMDs and gigantic killing machines as a great way to save lives and stimulate innovation. Yet when it comes to actually saving lives, the sum total of all cancer research in the U.S. amounts to less than a single war ship. Cancer kills 50,000 Americans per month. Talk about a clear and present danger — just not to the regime — which is why it will keep spending billions on ways to kill everything instead.
It doesn’t matter that U.S. military spending is already multiples of Russia and China. The failed balance of power model has given way to an asymmetric arms race without end. Every time a regime other than the U.S. announces some dreadful new WMD, it provides the excuse to up the ante. The MIC is constantly issuing new “studies” warning the U.S. might fall behind in the race without end to humanity’s destruction.
The business of war is a cornerstone of economic policy. It requires continually fomenting more violence and instability around the world. Who else has hundreds of military bases planted in other countries across the planet? Nobody. Think about that when remembering that 4 out of 5 armed conflicts are started by the U.S. government. And the hundreds of billions it takes to do that…Who benefits?
WMD Death Merchant
The fomenting of violence also includes arming other violent regimes with WMDs.
Saudi Arabia’s government is among the most brutally oppressive regimes in the world. Women can’t even drive a car, open a bank account, play sports, or leave their homes without the permission of their husband or father.
How might a fascist regime respond to this?
If you’re in the market for WMDs, the U.S. government is the world’s top merchant of death. Its vast network of corporate military contractors rakes in hundreds of billions in contracts. Taxes are cycled back to the government, employment rises, and GDP goes up to the cheering approval of regime economists.
Retired Army colonel and former Bush official Lawrence Wilkerson summed up the regime’s MIC racket perfectly: “We are the death merchant of the world.”
Fascism for the win.
Regime Acts of Terrorism
As awful as the Saudi regime is, imagine my shock when Obama pointed out, “Any time bombs are used to target civilians, it is an act of terrorism.”
By the president’s own definition, the U.S. government has committed numerous acts of terrorism which tower over every act of non-government terror in history.
I’m not talking about the regime bombing a wedding and killing 39 women and children. Or bombing a hospital filled with patients, children, and Doctors Without Borders physicians. Or bombing a 16-year old American boy. These smaller-scale acts of terrorism are routine for the regime, even though they would all be stories of the year if they happened in America. But where private terrorists seek to maximize press coverage for their act of terror, the regime goes out of its way to minimize public exposure of its acts of terror.
Sometimes government terrorism is so colossal in scale that it can’t be minimized or suppressed. Then it’s called just war.
I’d like to call attention to the fact that full-scale war is, in fact, mass terrorism. World War 2 provides some shocking examples. Operation Meetinghouse was when the U.S. military purposely firebombed civilians in Tokyo. (To firebomb means to burn civilians alive with napalm-loaded bombs.) General George Marshall was explicit: “There won’t be any hesitation about bombing civilians—it will be all-out.”
Following that were the two most deadly bombs ever dropped, the nuclear incineration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Both cities were packed with civilians and of minor value as military targets.
The two nukes incinerated over 160,000 people – mostly women, children, babies, and the elderly. Countless people suffered drawn-out, agonizing deaths from radiation poisoning. Babies were born with grotesque deformities and birth defects.
I don’t mention these examples to suggest that other regimes don’t commit acts of terror. They do, of course, and the bigger and more powerful the regime, the more you can be sure that mass terrorism will have been propagandized as justified acts of heroism.
As an American, I was subject to the American version of the regime’s war propaganda. It wasn’t until I managed to unlearn my self-identification with the government that I could see that all war is a scam. It’s just people blindly murdering each other in droves because politicians order them to.
Back to the present, the U.S. regime’s ongoing acts of terrorism fit its status as the world’s largest manufacturer and stockpiler of WMDs. How ironic, even hilarious, that Bush accused Saddam Hussein of being “addicted to WMDs.”
The fear mongering, invasions, and military occupations around the world keep the military-industrial complex humming along, and any blowback attacks will only ratchet the spending higher. The regime is already spending as much on military as the rest of the world combined.
And who really knows how many billions are poured into black budget projects? Then again, the people who are being forced to pay for it have no clue where the money is going anyway. How could they possibly have any idea when the regime itself claims it doesn’t know where TRILLIONS go. It makes “losing” a couple hundred million or $45 billion seem modest. No matter though, as long as people believe it’s all “to keep us safe.”
Costs to Date
The government’s endless killing and destruction in the Middle East has cost more than $1.6 trillion according to the Congressional Research Service.
The numbers are so abstract, so astounding, that we have to remind ourselves of something. Actual people — call them “war beneficiaries” — end up with billions in profits as the regime gets juiced with taxes and power. Top executives who manage the production side of the war machine make over $10,000 per hour.
Do you for a second believe they’re keeping you safe? Calling it a racket doesn’t capture the perversity or magnitude of what this is.
Tragically, the military-industrial complex has co-opted higher education. Universities across the country do military R&D for cash. And not surprisingly, actual courses explaining the military and its history are almost non-existent.
How do you make commandos more lethal? Pay the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to design mechanized combat suits. It’s a twisted subversion of academia which has been going on for decades.
A secret lab at Harvard is where napalm was invented and weaponized.
Universities are a military recruiting hotbed. Commit your life to the killing whims of politicians and they’ll pay your education bills. Heck, the sales pitch says it’s a “GOLDEN opportunity.”
This isn’t just for the regime’s infantry fodder. The brightest minds in physics, robotics, and computer science are aggressively recruited with great success. The budgets are huge and the projects employ fascinating ultra cutting-edge tech.
Big oil loves the military-industrial complex like a zombie loves brains. Whatever your view is on climate change amidst the dire warnings by regime scientists, who might we expect the world’s biggest oil burner to be?
It rips through almost 5 billion gallons of fuel annually. Not only that, “Military fuel is more polluting because of the fuel type used for aviation. CO2 emissions from jet fuel per gallon are triple those from diesel and oil.”
Try to act surprised: The Pentagon is exempted from all international climate agreements.
The Racket Never Sleeps
When it comes to the MIC, all we really need to know is this: Trillions of dollars feed a relentless and wildly profitable pursuit of destructive power. The regime is always thirsting for something more horrific, more devastating.
I’ve on many occasions heard Americans proclaim that the U.S. is the freest country in the world. I often ask how many of the 196 other political jurisdictions they’ve visited to inform their comparison. The answer is typically one or two, sometimes none. (Americans don’t do much traveling outside the regime’s borders.)
I can see why it happens. The propaganda comes from all sides — politicians, news, movies, TV shows, video games, sports, school — everywhere really. It’s utterly overwhelming. It wasn’t until I spent time traveling abroad that the land-of-the-free propaganda popped into high relief.
The U.S. government does propaganda better than any other regime in the world. Nobody else can get away with selling invasions as liberations.
News the Regime Can Use
This has been going on for decades.
The U.S. ranks 49th on the World Press Freedom Index — two rankings below Niger and four behind El Salvador, for reference.
The regime figured out a long time ago that the assumed arms-length credibility of mainstream news and the emotional engagement of popular entertainment were better vectors for its propaganda than the laughably goofy efforts you see in poorer countries.
Mainstream news networks are masterful at regurgitating government talking points as reporting. The messaging is wrapped in flashy production values and solemn urgency. Between the talking points we’re offered punditry which perpetually asks questions tailored to promote a culture of fear.
The subtext of all mainstream reporting is unmistakable: the greatest risk to our lives is (private) terrorism. It isn’t the millions who prematurely die from government subsidized obesity-related diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. No, it’s the freedom haters. Terrorism is never retaliation for slaughtering mountains of innocent people. It’s never regime-manufactured blowback from places the U.S. has invaded and bombed for years.
Propagandizing the Liar-in-Chief
Politicians fake sincerity as well as the finest actors. But unlike actors, the president commands the military — in other words, the deadliest arsenal of WMDs ever amassed and legions of soldiers sworn to obey his commands. Who thinks it’s a good idea to give any human being, much less a power-seeking liar, the literal power to kill millions? Anybody? Raise your hand high cause I have a bridge to sell you.
The dirty secret of politics is that only those who desperately crave godlike power get it. Nobody truly committed to peace would seek to wield the means to kill millions. People who are truly peaceful will never have WMD arsenals ready to deploy at their command or battalions sworn to execute their orders. Only power seekers with the insatiable lust to govern others are willing to kill vast numbers of people to accomplish their objectives.
Believers in politics can’t reconcile this truth: The least trustworthy among us are the ones most likely to wield government power. Why? Because when people pursue political power, those with the fewest moral constraints have an overwhelming competitive advantage. They can say whatever needs to be said to secure power, while others are restricted by conscience and morality. For this reason political power and truth-telling are inversely related.
While power tends to corrupt, when it comes to politics it’s far more important to remember: The corrupt seek power.
This power pathology was on full display during Obama’s morality-laden eulogy for the Charleston church shooting — delivered standing in front of Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine flags.
The military Obama commands continues year after year to maim and kill countless innocents and brush them off as collateral damage. That Americans have never known the horror of bombs dropping on their cities makes the depth of this hypocrisy hard to grasp.
Yet here we have Obama lecturing Americans about amazing grace and the depravity of gun violence while commanding the most aggressive military force in the world.
This is the commander whose military repeatedly bombed a hospital, slaughtering doctors, children, and other innocents. “Our patients burned in their beds; MSF doctors, nurses, and other staff were killed as they worked.”
This is the logic of a regime that will recruit an 18 year old, put a machine gun in his hands, and order him to kill complete strangers thousands of miles away — but forbid him from drinking a beer until he’s 21.
Why do most people not see through this gruesome charade? Why aren’t they antiwar until the blood flows in their streets?
Constant, relentless propaganda.
Militarism is woven into American culture. The regime uses your money to hire the world’s top media consultants and ad agencies to “message” you non-stop, whether it’s through military recruiting, pop media, sports, consumer goods, or the mainstream news cycle.
Let’s start with recruiting. No country spends more on military advertising or does it with more skill and pervasiveness.
What none of these commercials mention: You’re being asked to become a government employee who is willing to kill complete strangers whenever politicians order you to.
The truth is insane: War is strangers killing each other because politicians order them to. I long for the day when humans refuse to listen.
To maintain public support for the military-industrial complex, the government “partners” with mainstream media giants. In a textbook example of fascist economics, getting military “assistance” can save film-makers millions.
Even when TV shows have nothing to do with the military, the propaganda still seeps in. In one of countless examples, an episode of the hit country music TV series Nashville featured an appearance by Michelle Obama during a fictional support-the-troops concert.
For any movie or TV producers reading this, if you too are looking to pimp the military-industrial complex in return for some “assistance,” here you go.
In recent years the military has been using the commercial success of superhero properties to push troops-as-heroes messaging:
Superman is being used as a military recruiting tool. No wonder he renounced his citizenship.
Game of Death
The Army sets up video game centers as a recruiting honeypot where kids play war games for free. As one teen explains,
It really shows you what war is about, what war is like…like how your life is on the line when you’re in the middle of it, when you’re playing the games. It’s fun, because you can really feel like you’re in the Army when you’re playing the game.
Want to experience the thrill of being a government mercenary? Give the official Blackwater video game a go.
For 24/7 online global warfare, hop onto Wargaming.net, where there are approximately 100 million others waiting to virtually kill you in “the ultimate struggle for global supremacy.”
A few big war franchises dominate the games market. Of particular note are the multi-billion dollar franchises Call of Duty and Battlefield. The games feature real guns used by the military, as well as real tanks, planes, choppers, and drones. The creators of these games consult with the Pentagon and in turn advise Washington. They feature everything but the actual physical and mental agony that is war. War is cast as a sport — an “esport” with millions of dollars in prize money.
If you’re not familiar with the Call of Duty and Battlefield franchises, you’re out of touch with popular culture. This isn’t a niche thing. What’s the single most liked YouTube trailer of all time? It’s the reveal for the next Battlefield installment, a glorification of one of the great political atrocities of history, World War I:
Makes war look and sound awesome, doesn’t it? The billions — literally billions — of hours which adults and kids alike have spent in these war simulators have likely influenced public perception of war more than any other aspect of American culture.
To most young Americans, war is an entertainment pursuit.
Literally hundreds of war video games have been produced, and the most commercially successful ones are technological and graphical marvels. They are thrilling and overwhelming to the senses. Adrenaline without consequences. When you die, you merely “respawn.” You play on teams and your kill statistics are tracked as a way to achieve higher ranks.
In a mind-bending display of art imitating life imitating art, check out this Call of Duty trailer in which Kevin Spacey plays a House of Cardsesque power-mongering pol:
This is the same video game franchise that markets itself by sending out fake tweets about terrorist attacks.
Of the billions of dollars and billions of hours spent on war gaming, there’s been only one resolutely antiwar game. It’s called This War of Mine. It’s a drop of indie brilliance in an ocean of blood.
War Is Sporting
War-as-sport and sport-as-war. It’s a profoundly effective way to blur the bloody, catastrophic reality of war.
Here’s a small sampling of how the regime buys influence in the commercial sports market to propagandize the military:
The regime pays NFL teams millions for honor-the-troops pageantry.
If you want to elicit a look of shocked incredulity from a foreigner, mention that the U.S. government does military flyovers at college and pro sports games:
At NFL games the flyovers are coordinated with emotional renditions of the Star Spangled Banner:
How can people not get sucked into these displays of power? It’s intoxicating. Listen to the roaring fighter planes and the crowds. It’s genius. And stomach-churning.
You can visit the NBA’s web site to learn about the military. Because, you know, basketball and war…
Major League Baseball teams devote entire sections of their web sites to the military:
Racing for War
The military runs circles around NASCAR. The pre-race military pageantry often consists of a gargantuan flag on the track being held by soldiers, while a singer stands in front of Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines flags belting out the national anthem. This is typically mixed with cut-in shots of the crowd, hands over heart. Military jets roar overhead as the anthem climaxes.
This has been going on for years. The Army, Air Force, and National Guard spent millions sponsoring NASCAR drivers and their teams, such as Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Newman, and A.J. Allmendinger.
Here’s a sampling of what fascism on wheels looks like:
There’s more — tons more — but you get the idea. The regime has conquered sports.
The Song of War
Ok. So we have movies, TV, video games, sports…what else?
Too touchy-feely? For institutionalized killing and sex appeal, salute Rihanna’s song Hard.
Make Your Parents Proud
Nothing could make a parent more proud than being an employee of the military. Right…?
Teleflora is banking on it.
Teleflora partnered with billion dollar military insurance firm USAA to make a commercial that is — I have to admit — astonishing. I watched it and felt moved despite knowing it’s a calculated exercise in manipulation. The commercialization of a son’s love and appreciation of his mother as a way to advertise the military is as masterfully manipulative as it is revolting.
To me, this is as good as propaganda gets. It plays upon the deepest needs and emotions we have as sons, daughters, and parents. This commercial has gone viral with almost 12 million views. It exemplifies how fascism leverages the commercial skills of the private sector. It whups the ass of klutzy state-produced propaganda efforts seen in socialist and communist regimes.
We’ve gone from football all the way to flowers. Could there possibly be anything left?
It’s never too early to start the programming. The military literally licenses its trademarked “brands” to toy companies. Yes, U.S. ARMY is a registered trademark, and private toy companies license it to sell military toys to children.
For those still incredulous over the F-word: What is it when the government trademarks its military branches and licenses them to companies in order to sell propaganda toys to children? It sure ain’t socialism. It’s the virulent combination of government and industry known as fascism.
Here’s a small sampling of military toys for children from thousands of available choices at Amazon:
All this is just a glimpse at the military-entertainment complex. No where else in the world (except possibly North Korea) is the military so widely integrated and extolled throughout popular culture.
Is it any wonder Americans are wracked with anxiety?
On the covert side of propaganda, the regime infiltrates online communities and stages false flag disinformation campaigns to target individuals and companies who criticize it.
The degree of systematic manipulation is shocking to the point of incredulity. Because few Americans travel internationally, I don’t think there’s a widespread recognition of all this. Almost nobody in the media confronts it.
The Tribal Songs of Politics
Politics is a global divide and conquer racket, a way of tribalizing people into flag-waving teams within imaginary lines called political borders.
It’s kind of like sports, but with mandatory attendance, guns, cages, bombs, and periodic bouts of mass suffering and death. It’s always your team who is the just one, the righteous one, the one blessed by God. And all who fight and die for the regime are heroes.
The racket becomes laughably obvious when you read the lyrics of national anthems. The story is always the same. Every regime has bravely defied the odds and defeated the oppressors (in other words, a different regime), and turned their political jurisdiction into a land of liberty. Hooray! The government is us! Freedom at last!
To illustrate this pattern, we’ll wrap up our #1’s with this sampling of anthems courtesy of The Encyclopaedia of National Anthems.
Mortals! Hear the sacred cry;
Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!
Hear the noise of broken chains
See noble equality enthroned
O, Land of the free by the Carib Sea,
Our manhood we pledge to thy liberty!
No tyrants here linger, despots must flee
This tranquil haven of democracy
We have kept the lofty name of our country in glorious splendor
And on its altars we once more swear
To die rather than live as slaves
Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!
In thy bosom, O liberty,
Our hearts will defy death itself!
O adored fatherland,
Cherished and revered,
All hail! All hail!
Where at last national identity has the right of freedom
Where injustice has lost its place forever,
And where from the hands of builders of a glorious world
Everywhere the harvests of patriotic vows ripen
O Canada! Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all thy sons command
With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The true north strong and free!
You have conquered the soil and won your rights;
Your freedom will be born of your courage.
Lift up your eyes, the future is yours.
Arise, ye who refuse to be slaves;
With our very flesh and blood
Let us build our new Great Wall!
Millions of hearts with one mind
Brave the enemy’s gunfire
The fearful night came to an end,
Is spreading the dawns
Of its invincible light.
In heroes’ blood is bathing
The land of Columbus.
Freedom is her dogma and her guide;
A thousand times she has defended it,
And as many times has she repelled
The hateful power of atrocious tyranny
Let us sing for freedom!
Let us shout: Long live Guinea!
Let us defend our freedom.
Respect for citizenship is strong in our Ethiopia;
National pride is seen, shining from one side to another.
For peace, for justice, for the freedom of peoples.
As we stand united under noble banner blue,
And we honor and defend the cause of freedom ever,
Onward march together, God bless Fiji.
Sacred love of country,
Lead and support our avenging arms.
Freedom, dear freedom,
Fight along with those who defend you.
Unity and right and freedom
For the German fatherland;
Let us all pursue this purpose
Brotherly with heart and hand.
To all who thirst for liberty;
Where the banner of Ghana freely flies,
May the way to freedom truly lie;
Arise, arise, O sons of Ghanaland.
From the graves of our slain
Shall thy valor prevail
As we greet thee again–
Hail, liberty! Hail!
Your message, O Imam,
Of independence and freedom,
Is imprinted on our souls.
We are a valiant people, sons of honor.
We’ve sacrificed everything to gain
We are open for freedom for ages.
Friendship and unity are in our hearts.
The land of Kyrgyzstan, our native state,
Shining in the rays of consent.
And the freedom of the Lao nation,
They are resolved to struggle for victory
In order to lead the nation to prosperity.
Long live Liberia, happy land!
A home of glorious liberty,
By God’s command!
Your spirit of liberty bestow
On us now as of yore.
Let Freedom’s sun in glory glow
For now and evermore.
Today above Macedonia,
the new sun of liberty is born.
The Macedonians fight
for their own rights!
Freedom ever, let us all unite
To build up Malawi.
With our love, our zeal and loyalty
Bringing our best to her.
Our banner shall be liberty.
For Africa and for you, Mali,
Our fight shall be for unity.
As one nation,
For peace, justice and liberty.
Beloved country, may God bless thee.
War, war without truce against who would attempt
To blemish the honor of the fatherland!
War, war! The patriotic banners saturate in waves of blood.
War, war! On the mount, in the vale the terrifying cannon thunder,
And the echoes nobly resound to the cries of union! Liberty!
Fountain of freedom, source of light,
Where sovereignty and safety meet,
Safety and sovereignty may you ever combine!
Namibia, land of the brave, Namibia our country
Freedom fight we have won Namibia motherland.
Glory to their bravery. We love thee.
Whose blood waters our freedom.
The labors of our heroes past in love and honesty to grow,
Shall never be in vain, and living just and true,
To serve with heart and might great lofty heights attain.
One nation bound in freedom, peace and unity.
Our forefathers, fighting magnificently,
Displayed their immortal glory.
And when the august diadem was shattered,
They raised the triumphal cap of Liberty.
Priests, rise the cross, this Christian army’s liberating.
The word is freedom, no less sacred is the end.
We’d rather die in battle, in elevated glory
Than live again enslaved on our ancestral land.
Oh! Samoa, hold fast
Your freedom forever!
Do not be afraid; as you are founded on God;
Our treasured precious liberty.
High we exalt thee, realm of the free;
Great is the love we have for thee;
Firmly united ever we stand,
Singing thy praise, O native land.
Even if tyrants shall come, thy heart yearns towards freedom.
Togo arise! Let us struggle without faltering.
Victory or death, but dignity.
God almighty, Thou alone hast made Togo prosper.
Freedom’s the right of this my nation,
Yes, freedom for us who worship God and seek what’s right.
Oh Uganda! The land of freedom,
Our love and labor we give,
And with neighbors all at our country’s call
In peace and friendship we’ll live.
Well lay down our souls and bodies
To attain our freedom.
And we’ll show that we, brothers, are
Of the Kozak nation.
All Thais are ready to give up
Every drop of blood for the nation’s
Safety, freedom and progress.
Eastern landsmen, our country or the tomb!
Freedom, or with glory to die!
Glory to the brave nation which shook off the yoke,
Respecting law, virtue, and honor, “Off with the chains!“
Then conquer we must when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto, “In God is our trust.”
And the Star-Spangled Banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
American Exceptionalism: Why the U.S. Regime Is #1
I realize this accounting of #1’s was a long read. Thanks so much for persevering. Sadly, the truth is every #1 could be expanded into a book loaded with more examples illustrating how the political racket operates.
There will always be another confidence artist with “a vision” and “a plan” clawing for political power. That’s why the focus has been on the racket itself instead of wasting time on individuals.
As far as objections go, it’s fair to point out that Americans enjoy a more materially abundant existence than most of the rest of the world. It’s worth asking why, because that relative wealth saves the regime from resorting to some of the more ham-fisted propaganda and embarrassing control mechanisms that other governments employ in their efforts to rule people.
Money Makes Regimes Go Round
How did Uncle Sham come out on top of the power heap?
From what I can tell, it’s all about the money.
Money is the lifeblood of any regime. No cash? No power. And by cash I mean actual material wealth, not the money printing which all regimes do. Real material prosperity gives government the means and the psychological cover to continually expand its reach.
People don’t complain or even pay much attention to government when they feel financially secure. Almost any measure of control that politicians impose will be tolerated as long as people have full bellies and loads of compelling entertainment. That might change some day, but I’m not holding my breath.
Six factors seem to have driven America’s prosperity to a position of global economic dominance. Please comment if more come to mind.
1) Natural Endowment
The staggering geological diversity, scale, and richness of America provided the raw materials to fuel continual economic development. The growth phase of America was powered by an astounding depth and breadth of natural resources, including easily accessible oil, coal, gold and unthinkably vast stretches of fertile land. Before modern agricultural innovations became widespread, the U.S. was the world’s breadbasket.
2) Minimal Taxation and Regulation
For much of America’s history, it was by and large the most economically free commercial center in the world. As long as you generally resembled the demographic of the regime, “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” were largely there for the building. No swarms of bureaucrats or IRS agents were going to try and hold you back.
The government was vanishingly small and unintrusive. I don’t mean this in the abstract. I mean that instead of millions of bureaucrats enforcing hundreds of thousands of pages of legalese, there were practically none. Like, 99% less.
The many private fortunes made were saved, reinvested into growing businesses and starting new ones, donated to charitable causes, or spent into the economy on consumer goods and services. Today the biggest expense for successful entrepreneurs and high income earners is taxes — especially income tax, capital gains tax, dividend tax, and estate tax — which for much of America’s history was de minimis or non-existent.
But wasn’t there mass death and epidemic suffering from lack of regulations? No. Back then caveat emptor meant something. People understood that they were responsible for their decisions and their own lives. Turnkey lawsuits and shyster ambulance chasers weren’t a thing.
Today most people assume politicians provide a guard rail against bad decisions. Forget buyer beware, the regime has done due diligence for them via its ocean of regulations and bureaucracies. This false assumption ironically enables much larger scale frauds since bureaucrats don’t have their own money at stake in the businesses they purport to police. That’s why the world’s biggest non-government fraud cases like Bernard Madoff and Enron are recent rather than ancient history.
Perversely, every massive fraud helps the regime. Every failure by government is used as an excuse to impose more controls and a bigger bureaucracy. Politician Rahm Emanuel inadvertently explained the playbook better than anyone: “You never want to let a serious crisis go to waste.” Every government failure is met with table pounding for more political controls to “protect us.” Care to say it with me?
Today’s regulatory-tax complex was absent during the economic ascendancy of America. The openness of commercial life fostered America’s can-do culture and business savvy. Freedom encourages people to be resourceful and get along with each other. American hospitality and its customer-centric ethos were born from this time.
By contrast, the command-and-control matrix we live in today encourages people to act like pissed off caged animals. It makes people defensive, envious, and resentful. Trying to be productive or entrepreneurial becomes a stifling exercise in daily aggravations, like the DMV writ large.
Before politicians used law to turn us all into criminals, Americans weren’t the most imprisoned population on the planet.
Despite the lack of a vast regulatory-tax complex during America’s economic ascendancy, the regime did of course institutionalize slavery. A massive labor force receiving no compensation surely had a powerful impact on the economy.
But the degree to which slavery caused America’s economic supremacy is subject to some debate. People have pointed out that slavery existed elsewhere and was not necessarily an unmitigated boon. Others argue that it was a defining factor in America’s rise to economic dominance.
Since there’s no counterfactual American past to compare, we can’t know definitively. But it seems highly unlikely to me that slavery was a non-factor. After all, businessmen wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of enslaving human beings unless it was economically advantageous to do so.
When Thomas Jefferson wasn’t proclaiming our “unalienable rights” to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” he was busying buying and selling kidnapped people for profit, while advising his friends to do the same.
4) The American Dream
To discuss the American Dream after slavery seems schizophrenic. But there it is, nonetheless.
From the relatively free market, laissez-faire origins of America sprung a powerful romantic ideal, the American Dream. It animated millions with the conviction that hard work and merit in this land of plenty were the only things separating them from material prosperity. The good life could be built, brick by brick, by anyone willing to sweat for it.
Land of the free. That was the promise, and compared to much of the rest of the world, the reality.
The American Dream was the single most powerful recruiting force in history. It attracted the most driven, most talented, most ambitious immigrants to America.
The reputation of America as a meritocracy — a place where getting rich is possible for anybody willing to earn it — inspired an electrifying flux of entrepreneurial energy, capital investment, and world-changing technological innovation.
Unlike today, there was no massive centralized welfare state. Millions didn’t systematically depend upon the government for food, education, health care, insurance, and unemployment checks.
People had to find a way to be useful to others in order to support themselves. Those who couldn’t had to rely on family, friends, private charities, good Samaritans, and religious organizations for assistance.
And because taxes were practically non-existent compared to today, the economic ability of private individuals and institutions to help others in need was vastly greater.
Now that the U.S. is the most complex tax and regulatory jurisdiction in the world, the American Dream has largely been rendered a hollow slogan. The incentives to come to America have been perverted by the regime’s massive welfare apparatus. It fosters dependency and resentment of others.
As a result, the immigration-driven melting pot — “give me your tired, your poor…yearning to breath free” — is now dominated by tight immigration quotas and calls for even more walls. The process of attempting to immigrate already costs several thousand dollars and involves years of waiting.
Today my ancestors never would have made it through the regime’s gauntlet.
5) Mass Destruction Avoidance
While much of the industrialized world was being obliterated in World War 1 and World War 2, America escaped physical destruction.
The advantage of America’s capital structure being intact while Europe’s was in ruins can’t be overstated. Regime economists love to promote the viciously false notion that war is good for the economy. Yet none of them are willing to blow up their homes or commit suicide to demonstrate their claim.
War is a racket. No honest prosperity comes from it. Anybody who advocates mass murder to decrease unemployment is a sociopath who likely works for the regime…
To get a sense of what a war-torn city actually looks like, see this recent video of what used to be the third largest city in Syria.
6) The Almighty Petrodollar
The petrodollar is a mafia-style protection racket. In exchange for the U.S. providing military protection and weapons to the brutal Saudi regime, the Saudis require other countries to pay for their oil with U.S. dollars.
The petrodollar deal created such intense international demand for dollars that the American regime could print trillions more without suffering catastrophic devaluation.
Along with the petrodollar, Nixon terminated the convertibility of U.S. dollars to gold. Suddenly other regimes were no longer able to exchange their dollar holdings for gold bullion. Dollar-to-gold convertibility had served as a physical constraint on the the U.S. regime’s ability to print and spend. With nothing left to restrain politicians, the dollar floodgates opened, and the regime’s tidal wave of debt took form.
The international demand for dollars from the petrodollar racket, combined with defaulting on the gold standard, enabled the U.S. regime to project itself around the world. Large American corporations followed in the regime’s wake by internationalizing, taking advantage of the dollar’s strength and the lower taxes in other “less capitalist” countries.
From Private Prosperity to Empire
These six factors powered the largest economic boom in modern history. This created the means and opportunity for the U.S. government to grow from its formerly tiny state to its current incarnation as the most powerful, aggressive regime in the world.
Because the regime took a predominantly fascist approach to expanding its reach, over the past few decades it has widened its economic and military advantage over other regimes which govern within a primarily socialist or communist framework. Many of those regimes have taken notice and are adopting a more fascist approach to economic management. For example, communist China and Vietnam now impose far lower taxes than Uncle Sham.
The bottom line is the U.S. regime leveraged the biggest economic boom in modern history into government dependency at all levels of society — from corporate board rooms clamoring for billion dollar contracts, to the regime becoming the largest employer of the middle class, to the 50+ million living on welfare and food stamps.
Under the banner of private property and free market capitalism, the regime commands and controls like no other competitor. Systemic government dependency ensures there will be no real threat to the status quo, while elections bamboozle people into thinking they chose this.
Some may object by saying there’s no need to be crude.
Actually, there is. If you accidentally ran over somebody with your car, you wouldn’t say, “Oh, fiddlesticks!”
There’s an appropriate time and place for the F-bomb. This is one of those times and one of those places.
Politics is the world’s biggest racket, and the American regime is the kingpin racketeer. For those who skipped the gory list of #1’s, here’s the punchline:
The U.S. government is #1 at taxing, jailing, warmongering, debt, cronyism, stalking, WMD sales, and propaganda.
The notion that politics is the path to human peace and harmony is the longest running con in history.
Politics is a wrecking ball that destroys good people’s lives every day. It rewards the most guileful among us. It herds us into groups to create rifts and exploit our tribal instincts. It conquers by dividing. (Note how politicians proclaim themselves “uniters” and “unifiers.”)
Politics is control posing as freedom. Compulsion posing as charity. Aggression posing as strength. Lies posing as truth — all starting with, “We are the government.”
Politics brings out the worst in us while pretending to inspire the best. It entices decent people into its vast machinery while well-coiffed confidence artists and silver-tongued sociopaths rise to the top.
Politics sows dependency and uses the cover of legal authority to get people to do awful things on a daily basis. It’s hard to see the racket when “just doing my job” is how you feed your family.
But to anybody willing to step back from a lifetime of conditioning, it’s clear that politics is the basest insult to human kindness, decency, and compassion.
If we don’t innovate better systems than politics for resolving conflict and managing the liabilities of human nature, we will sooner or later bring about our destruction. The march of technology won’t pause for virtue.
We’ll never vote our way to peace or freedom. So, yeah. #FuckPolitics.
Humanity needs a better way, and there is one.
– part 2 –
THE AGE OF DECENTRALIZATION
Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Smart Young People
The process of coming to understand the political racket almost ruined my life.
For years I was deeply bitter and confused about how so much suffering could be inflicted on millions to satisfy a few people’s lust for power and lucre. I couldn’t understand the psychology or the mechanics of how people kept getting away with it.
How can you fool, distract, or intimidate hundreds of millions of people over and over again? How could people seek jobs where they treat their fellow humans like animals to be tagged, trapped, or exterminated — and feel proud doing it?
Like a piece of software, I thought maybe politics could be de-bugged. Maybe it just had some flaws which somehow never quite got fixed. When I realized that the system isn’t broken at all for those who run it, only then did the government-is-us con finally register in my brain.
Why do the most skillful and charismatic liars rise to positions of unthinkable power? It’s not a bug; it’s a feature.
For a while I thought just pointing out the truth — calling out the racket — would fix it. Turns out truth is nuanced, and most people aren’t terribly interested in nuance. They’re tired, the kids are hungry, and the game is on. They want a feel-good slogan and a steady paycheck.
It’s easy to be proud to be an American, or a Canadian, or an Albanian — without thinking through what that even means.
I looked to history wondering if things had ever not been a racket.
There’s nothing quite like feeling the rush from Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death!” speech and then comparing it to his private journal. Poor Patrick felt guilty about enslaving kidnapped human beings. But no matter, slaves are just so darn convenient: “Would any one believe that I am master of slaves by my own purchase? I am drawn along by the general inconvenience of living without them.”
Every revolution just hatches another racket.
But guess what? I’m wildly optimistic about the future.
In every country I’ve visited (70 so far), it’s clear that people are thoroughly disgusted by politics. When I mention that politicians are professional liars, nobody raises so much as an eyebrow. It’s a glorious thing.
The government-is-us con is crashing on the rocks.
People’s vanishing faith in politics has served as a wake-up call to smart young people around the world. I mean really, really smart cookies. They’re driving innovation and entrepreneurship not based in protest or antagonism. Their efforts are rooted in solutions — specifically, solutions which replace demand for government services by offering better alternatives.
Politics isn’t about providing services that nobody else can. Politics is about centralization of power.
Centralization vests godlike powers to control and destroy in the hands of a few (notably, those who most seek it). First it was rationalized as the divine right of kings. Now it’s the divine right of politicians ruling over 197 fiefdoms carved by invisible lines called political borders.
We live in a world of political apartheid.
Because humans are deeply fallible — especially the ones who ravenously crave political power — increasing centralization is the greatest risk we face as a species.
I’m not just referring to all the horrors we’ve already covered. The entire written record of history — every episode of mass barbarity, exploitation, and devastation — bears witness to the utter failure of power centralization.
In the past when I’ve pointed out the titanic failure of politics, I’ve often been met with, “Well instead of just talking about problems, what’s your plan to fix things?”
Fair enough. To all those who have been stomaching the status quo because there wasn’t a better alternative on offer, I’m delighted to say…
There is a plan!
In fact, there isn’t just one plan. There are thousands of plans. They’re being devised organically and spontaneously. No permits or Congressional hearings. No endless debates over how “society” should function.
These plans are being birthed and implemented around the world without phony political speeches, elections, taxes, or armed bureaucrats forcing them down our throats.
These plans rely on voluntary participation, not compulsion. Any efforts which succeed will do so because they actually make people’s lives better.
These plans are blessedly apolitical. They don’t waste time protesting or begging pols for money or permission slips.
The brilliant (and mostly young) people with these plans are forging new systems and services which show rather than tell us that things can be better. As a whole they send a clarion message: We as a species can do better.
The catch-all name for these plans?
To those who would like a more peaceful and prosperous world, it’s happening. For those who don’t get it, no matter. Debating with naysayers is a waste of time when you can be building and living a freer life. People respond to incentives. Live better and they’ll follow saying they saw it all along.
The way to a better world isn’t through politics. It won’t be created by a blowhard pretending to be the “leader” of millions of individuals. The path to a better world is through decentralization, the peaceful dispersion of power and choice away from monopolistic authority.
A Better D-Word
People who cherish the word democracy really owe their affections to decentralization. In politics, power-seekers with the most money have the most say.
(Most of the time they have almost all of the say.)
That’s true no matter what political system we’re talking about. The golden rule of politics has always been, “Those who have the gold, rule.” They always find a way to architect and game the system for their own benefit. That’s why it’s a racket. Sometimes the gaming is “legal” and sometimes it’s not. Who cares? Either way the outcome is the same. Power is entrenched, compulsion is institutionalized, and the wealth gap keeps widening.
If that strikes you as deeply wrong, embrace decentralization, not the political racket marketed as democracy. If people are to govern themselves, they need to be free to make their own decisions, not have others’ decisions imposed on them by 197 political gangs.
Decentralization isn’t burdened by the utopian nonsense presumed by centralization. Advocates of centralization say you can’t trust people to make their own decisions, so power should be concentrated in the hands of a few who will make decisions for us. They call themselves “representatives,” even though they don’t actually know us, we’re forced to pay them, and we have to follow their orders or be caged. Of course those who say centralization is for our own good are the ones who want to wrap their hands around the levers of power.
Political apartheid is deeply unfair and just a shitty way to roll. As decentralization transitions us towards an increasingly post-political world, more peace and prosperity will be enjoyed by more people. It’s that simple.
The Mortal Threat of Centralization
People endlessly argue over politics. The flame wars, shouting, and eye rolling never cease.
So, let me ask: How often do you hear someone arguing over politics say, “You know, I’m wrong. I see now that your reasoning is superior, so I’m adopting your views.”
In my experience it’s rarer than unicorn sightings.
Unless alienating people amuses you, arguing about politics is a complete waste of time.
Consider the prospect of President Trump. To millions it would be welcome as a godsend. To millions of others, an angst-ridden nightmare come to life. How many will be swayed to the other side by appeals to reason or logic?
The crazy thing isn’t that people have deeply emotional, tribalistic convictions about Trump or whoever the power-seeker of the moment is. It’s that any individual anointed as “president” has the literal power to end the world.
It doesn’t get any more centralized than that.
Love or hate Trump, this isn’t about an individual. It’s about the system itself. It’s about centralization’s danger to our existence as a species.
The notion that politicians should be our protectors from the risks of the world is how we got here. It’s the rationalization underpinning that entire list of #1’s.
Safety is the Trojan horse of control. It’s the calling card for the protection racket.
Smart young people around the world understand this. They are upending the government-as-protector premise by offering better decentralized alternatives. From police to money, anything and everything has been put on the table.
There have been and will be efforts by regimes to suppress and undermine decentralization. Their efforts I believe will ultimately fail. When all is said and done, people just want to live better lives. Once they glimpse things that make their lives easier and more enjoyable, they find a way to access or build them.
We’re seeing decentralization bloom all over the planet. It’s electrifying. And it’s not, thankfully, a political “movement” which can be subverted, derailed, redefined, or co-opted. It’s just happening.
But Who Makes the Rules?
Rules provide the social framework of life. They’re essential for minimizing conflict because they set expectations for appropriate behavior.
We all make and live by our own rules. Some might not call them rules, but we have a personal code that governs our actions. Ultimately our own rules are the final word in what we do. Even if somebody has a gun to our head and is ordering us to do something, we still have the moral agency to follow our own rules, whether that means complying, refusing, or otherwise resisting.
Even though we live by our own rules, there are “rule domains” all around us. Every organization, club, team, guild, society, or religious institution is a domain with its own set rules. We follow them or not, and when we don’t, we bear the consequences of doing so. Same with the businesses we patronize and work for.
All these rules tend to be straightforward and understandable. And if any of them conflict with our own personal code, we can choose to shun whatever person, organization, or business rubs us the wrong way. Vote with our feet and money. Ostracism and boycotting are extremely powerful social forces.
Then there are political rules. Unlike every other rule domain, they’re imposed on us based on an accident of birth. The 197 political domains vary widely in the rules they impose and their means to enforce them.
Decentralized systems have rules too, but they aren’t made by a few people gaming a political process. Decentralized systems don’t give the 1% special treatment. Decentralized systems are architected to provide order, functionality, and security for all participants equally. They don’t grant extraordinary benefits, privileges, and exemptions to a tiny group of overseers.
We’ll see how that works in practice shortly. Already power and choice are flowing back to individuals through services, products, technologies, and distributed networks which bypass bureaucrats and arbitrary political borders. People around the world are connecting and exchanging with each other in new and astounding ways.
In other words, the smart kids aren’t protesting gravity for keeping them down. They’re building rocket ships.
Politics will continue to wreck millions of good people’s lives around the world and be a danger to our survival as a species until the services government purports to provide are naturally replaced by superior decentralized alternatives. These alternatives will dissolve political apartheid and fulfill the promise of self-determination that political democracies have failed to deliver.
Decentralization is power to people, not politicians.
Decentralization Is a Process
Decentralization isn’t necessarily all-or-nothing. Some systems are more decentralized than others.
Total centralization means total monopolization of power. In other words, everybody else’s choices are subject to permission, as with a political regime.
Total decentralization means nobody has any special privileges or powers over others’ choices. The shift from centralized to decentralized can happen on a continuum, and we’ll see several examples of that continuum.
Much of the decentralization shift today is being facilitated by software. That’s because software can be built so that rules are inherently part of the program’s operation instead of something which needs to be externally policed and enforced.
In the land of software development, decentralization is happening by way of peer-to-peer (P2P for short) and open-source paradigms.
Peer-to-peer just means individual to individual. A fully P2P system has no middlemen or intervening institutions or bureaucracies. There is no power hierarchy. Everyone is everyone else’s peer by the very architecture of the system.
With P2P software, the code itself is the law. It sets the rules for everyone, and unlike political regimes, enforces those rules equally, automatically, and at all times. People directly connect and exchange in whatever commercial or social context they choose. These exchanges happen on a mutual, voluntary basis. No self-proclaimed authority inserts itself to give or withhold permission.
Open-source is a decentralized approach for creating and developing technology. There are various types of open-source licenses, but they generally mean a piece of technology is free to use, free to share, and free to modify.
Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that helps people make their works open-source so that others around the world can freely benefit from them. The three open-source Creative Commons licenses to choose from are Public Domain Dedication, Attribution-ShareAlike, and Attribution.
We’re in the early days of decentralization, and the results are already astonishing. The spirit animating decentralization is one of optimism, sharing, and reality-based hope. Billions of value exchanges are happening spontaneously, voluntarily, and often for free.
Where apparently life in ages past was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish,” it is no more. History need not be our destiny. Decentralization is the great civilizing force for humanity. It is working and will continue to improve our lives because it doesn’t require human nature to change.
Our sense of security is fundamental to living an enjoyable life. Nobody wants to sleep with one eye open.
As long as there are predatory people in the world, peaceful people will need for reliable, effective security.
Since we know we can’t rely on cops to help us in an emergency, where else can we turn?
Security is being crowdsourced. Cell411 and Guardian Circle are smart phone apps dedicated to providing a superior alternative to relying on 911 in a crisis. These apps let you instantly alert a chosen network of people (friends, family, or others nearby who use the app) that there’s an emergency, like an accident, altercation, or health crisis.
Cell411 also lets you immediately start streaming video. If an aggressor knows that the video you’re recording can’t be deleted even if your phone is destroyed, that alone can be a powerful deterrent.
Because police interactions can easily turn violent, avoiding them also means avoiding tickets. Waze is a decentralized traffic app that enables its users to crowdsource information about road and traffic conditions, including police ticket traps. Driving is the most dangerous activity that most of us do, and Waze makes it safer.
For day-to-day neighborhood protection, Threat Management Centers is astonishing. It has for the past 20 years been far more effective at reducing crime than the police. Its philosophy and operational blueprint are worth replicating because it has succeeded brilliantly in one of the more violence-plagued cities in America.
Legal Dispute Resolution
Using government courts to resolve disputes is a maddeningly slow, inefficient, costly, and unreliable process. Entrepreneurs have figured out how to help people bypass government courts and resolve disputes through what’s called alternative dispute resolution (ADR). JAMS and ADR Services are two of the larger firms in this field.
People think a stamped piece of paper from a government certified school will land them a secure, well-paid job. Students have racked up $1.3 trillion in debt following that belief only to find out that most of the time it’s not true. (Your odds improve a lot if you have a STEM degree.)
So how do you get an education without racking up huge debt? Educate yourself for free. There are vast quantities of high quality, free material available to anybody with an internet connection. You can spend those would-be school years gaining experience in the commercial world while simultaneously becoming as educated as you want in any number of subjects.
The decentralization of education is the greatest advancement to the ideal of meritocracy. Today a child in Calcutta can access top quality teaching for free that, before decentralization, would have had a six-figure price tag attached.
Academic Earth offers a curated selection of high quality free courses from Ivy League and other top universities.
Duolingo teaches you foreign languages.
Khan Academy offers thousands of high quality, bite-sized lessons from grade school to college level difficulty, along with self-assessment quizzes to see if you’re ready to progress from lesson to lesson.
Coursera is the largest provider of free university level courses. While the lectures are free to watch, there is a fee (~$50 per course) for getting a certificate and having course material reviewed and graded.
EdEx was started by Harvard and MIT to provide hundreds of college level courses. Similar to Coursera, you can pay a fee (around $25-$100) to get an ID-verified institutional certificate for completing the course. And check out MIT’s sister project, MIT OpenCourseWare.
Gymnasium offers free technical courses mostly focused on web development and design.
Udacity offers free courses as well as highly job-focused technical classes for a monthly fee.
There are tons more online resources for learning. The only limit is your time and motivation.
What if you’re so broke you can’t get consistent access to a computer? There’s a company who has made it their business to help you. It’s called Endless, and they offer brand new $79 PCs that can plug into any TV or computer monitor. Even if you don’t have net access, every Endless PC is pre-loaded with Wikipedia and over 1,000 classes from Khan Academy. For the price of a single textbook you can, if you’re driven, teach yourself more than the vast majority of college grads ever learn.
If you have net access but are on a super tight budget, for only slightly more money get a budget Chromebook. That will give you full PC functionality on the go.
How many scary taxi rides have you had? I had a cabbie fall asleep at a stop light in a bad neighborhood late at night in New York. Another did 90 mph down the highway and refused to slow down. Many rides have simply been unpleasant because the cab was dirty, and the driver was clearly not happy about being there.
Thankfully some smart, lateral thinking people have had similar experiences. Rather than complaining, they built better alternatives to paying bureaucrats a million dollars for permission to give people a ride.
Ridesharing apps are a great example of how government squeezing harder on people’s freedom to make choices is further advancing the decentralization process. Several political jurisdictions have taken steps to protect their taxi cartels by banning services like Uber or erecting barriers to entry.
Ultimately the solution to those bans won’t be pleading with and paying off politicians to give us permission to give each other rides. It’s to create a more fully decentralized implementation of ridesharing. That’s what Arcade City is doing. People in need of a ride connect directly with drivers rather than through a company. There’s no corporate office to raid or bank account to freeze. Just people gladly helping each other out.
Our bodies are complex systems. There are thousands and thousands of different diseases and adverse conditions which can afflict us. If you go to your doctor, what are the chances he’ll know what’s wrong? If he does, will he give you the best treatment advice? Mountains of new medical research get published ever year. Doctors don’t have time to read even a small fraction of it.
What if you could crowdsource your medical treatment? You can. CrowdMed taps a network of thousands of “Medical Detectives” composed of doctors and other health care experts in various fields to help you solve perplexing medical problems.
Anonymously submit a questionnaire detailing your symptoms, health history, and the results of any tests you’ve had. You can offer a bounty to incentivize people to drill down on your case. According to the founder of CrowdMed, the average CrowdMed patient gets his or her case solved for about $200 even if they’ve already spent thousands on failed diagnoses from different doctors.
Food is being decentralized away from big agra and supermarkets. People are bypassing government dictates about what food they’re allowed to purchase by going directly to farmers.
The biggest way food decentralization is happening is through farmers markets and community-supported agriculture (CSA). People join a CSA and buy a “share” in a harvest. There are thousands of CSAs throughout the U.S. In major cities you can get guidance from places like Local Roots and Just Food.
All over the country the regime has conducted armed raids on farms to shut down peaceful exchange between consumers and producers of food. The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund tries to mitigate the harm the regime does to farmers and consumers who don’t want a bureaucrat’s permission to eat what they want.
The raft of government licensing and regulations required to operate a hotel is being decentralized away by Airbnb. Though in some cities, like with Uber, bureaucrats have issued edicts forbidding people from letting others stay in their property.
More difficult to strangle with regulation is CouchSurfing. It connects people who have a spare bed or couch and are willing to share it with others for free. CouchSurfing has been a miraculous development in opening up the world to travel for people who otherwise couldn’t afford it.
The tiny house movement is an approach to housing which not only promises a simpler and more manageable lifestyle, but also avoids much of the regulatory controls and other costs associated with traditional home ownership. Some are cleverly designed, and there’s a robust community eager to exchange knowledge and help each other out.
Money and Banking
Governments are no longer the monopoly providers of money. Free market competitors are here, and they’re called cryptocurrencies.
The “crypto” prefix is because the money is secured by encryption. They have no controlling party, issuing authority, or central bank. This means nobody can arbitrarily counterfeit or “print” more the way politicians can with fiat currencies.
Because cryptocurrencies are digital and peer-to-peer, you can send money to anybody in the world at any time for almost zero cost, removing the need for wire transfers, as well as the costly hassles of check cashing and the billions that get blown on remittance.
Yes, money and banking have been decentralized. It’s still early days, but this is an event of monumental importance. Private competition with government money and its highly regulated banking cartel is possibly the most fundamental challenge to the paradigm of centralized political authority.
Unlike government money, cryptocurrencies aren’t based in any country. They’re borderless. The sending and receiving of cryptocurrencies isn’t subject to jurisdictional regulations or institutional controls. Money can be sent from one person to another at any time and for any reason.
Bitcoin currently has the largest market share, but there are lots of competitors on its heels in what is a cutting-edge landscape brimming with innovative people. Unlike the expensive exchange fees people pay to swap one government money to another (like dollars to euro), you can swap from one cryptocurrency to another easily, quickly, and inexpensively with ShapeShift. And Bitsquare is building an integrated exchange that spans government currencies and cryptocurrencies.
You can now be your own bank — no lines, fees, paperwork, hassles, or arbitrary account lockdowns. That concept is a bit scary for non-tekkie people to grasp, but this short primer for the Dash cryptocurrency gives an overview of the benefits.
Cryptocurrencies have truly decentralized banking. This is a liberating thing for those who are annoyed by the lines, hassles, fees, paperwork, and restrictions imposed by banks. It’s also hugely liberating for a big swath of the 2.5 billion people around the world who for various reasons don’t use banks. This vast unbanked population can now securely send money instantly at virtually zero cost anywhere in the world. BitPesa is doing this for Africa. And through services like Bitwage, people can work as contractors or full-time employees and automatically receive their wages directly in cryptocurrency. No need to deal with banks.
You store your bitcoins in a “wallet.” A simple-to-use bitcoin wallet is Airbitz, which as a bonus can get you 10-20 percent discounts at Starbucks and Target. If you want to buy bitcoins via your credit card or bank account, Circle can get you up and running in a few minutes.
Millions of products can be purchased from thousands of vendors using bitcoin. What about vendors who don’t accept cryptocurrencies? Gyft, eGifter, and GiftOff have you covered, and they give you 2-3 percent back to boot. Buying from Amazon using Purse.io gets you up to 20 percent discounts. If you’re new to cryptocurrencies but use Amazon, Purse.io is a great way to give bitcoin a try.
Small business and personal loans have been decentralized by peer-to-peer lending. P2P lending lets people who need capital access it when they wouldn’t get the time of day from a bank.
Decentralization of loan-making enables lenders to massively diversify their risk. You can easily loan 100 different businesses $25 each, something that would have been a ridiculous proposition in the past. And in a world of effectively zero interest rates on bank deposits, why loan a bank your savings so that it can turn around and lend it when you could do the same thing with P2P lending?
Lending Club, Prosper, OnDeck, and Funding Circle are key players in this space. This guide and article offer guidance on how to start enjoying actual returns on your savings rather than being an unpaid profit lever for traditional banks.
Ask any band, author, game maker, inventor, or aspiring movie producer how much luck they’ve had financing their projects with a bank. Crowdfunding technology has decentralized project financing. It put creators directly in touch with willing consumers, and as a result billions of dollars have funded countless innovative and creative projects that never would have seen the light of day.
Kickstarter and Indiegogo are the big generalist crowdfund sites. But there are also specialized crowdfund sites like Fig for video games, Patreon for artistic projects, and PledgeMusic for bands. And as blockchain-related technology matures, we’ll see a transition to fully decentralized crowdfunding.
To invest in blockchain-based technologies and firms which are decentralizing the landscape of banking, brokerages, and exchanges, check out Bnk To The Future.
The P2P technology behind crowdfunding has enabled charity to be decentralized. Now people in need can reach out to the rest of the world and make a direct appeal for help.
Think about how big that is. In the past to charitably help others you either had to have personal contact with someone or make a donation to a centralized charitable organization. The centralization of charity has severe problems, such as rampant waste, self-dealing, and fraud. Even charities that are rated “good” spend a quarter of their donations just on overhead. Peer-to-peer charity removes the waste and inherent conflicts of interest that plague institutional charities.
Imagine how much more charitable giving there would be if trillions in taxes weren’t flushed down the memory hole.
File sharing has decentralized distribution of all things digital. File sharing is when you choose to make a file or group of files on your computer available for others to download. As you read this, there are millions of people around the world sharing files with anybody who’d like them. The files can be anything, but the majority of it is data, like music files (mp3, flac, etc.), video files (mp4, mkv, avi, etc.), and documents (pdf, epub, etc.).
Sometimes file sharing is done in conscious violation of political dictates. For example, Alexandra Elbakyan created Sci-Hub to freely share over 47 million paid academic journal articles in defiance of U.S. copyright rules.
There are several file sharing methods, but the most popular is bittorrent. It’s a way for people to share directly with each other instead of downloading from a server. This is known as P2P filesharing. Tons of bittorrent content isn’t copyrighted, but a whole lot is. You can pretty much find anything — movies, TV shows, albums, books, podcasts, etc. Bittorrent doesn’t recognize any political jurisdictions or impose controls over what people share or download. It’s up to the individual to decide.
If you’d like to try sharing or downloading files with bittorrent, I recommend using the free and open source program Qbittorrent. There are lots of other bittorrent programs (utorrent is the most popular), but they aren’t open source and have various tracking and ad software built-in.
Because your internet service provider (ISP) tracks the web sites you visit as well as your bitorrent use, for the sake of privacy it’s always good practice to always use a VPN. (A VPN makes where you go and what you do on the internet private instead of recorded by your ISP.) The VPNs listed here are well known and work with bittorrent.
Torrent files are catalogued on torrent listing sites. A couple of the more well-known ones are The Pirate Bay and Kickass Torrents. Once you have Qbittorrent installed, you can go to a torrent listing site, search for what you want, and then click on what’s called a magnet link.
After clicking the magnet link, the file will start downloading in bits and pieces from other people around the world who have chosen to share (or “seed”) that file.
Unless you’re experienced in computer security, I don’t recommend downloading software programs. In other words, don’t mess with .exe or .bat files because they often contain malware. However, audio and video files like mp3, mp4, mkv, avi, mov, and flac are safe to download.
If you aren’t sharing files yourself, it’s considered good netiquette to share files you’ve already downloaded from others for a while. (Your downloads will “seed” automatically; you don’t need to do anything.) After all the willingness to share is why there’s a global decentralized file sharing network in the first place.
In the past people’s desire to share with each other was limited to the physical realm. To share music, for example, you had to have friends over to listen, or lend your CDs to others, or borrow them from a library.
Bittorrent not only enables people to share without physical limitations, it also lets people share with others who don’t have access to certain content due to political censorship or legal restrictions.
Free and Open-Source Software
FOSS — free and open-source software — is the digital forefront of decentralization. FOSS means that you not only get the program for free (and I mean truly free, not a mousetrap where you’re the product). It also means anybody can review and audit the program’s source code, as well as submit improvements and bug fixes. There are FOSS alternatives to all sorts of paid, proprietary programs.
FOSS programs are not only 100% free, they contain no built-in spyware or adware like many shareware and commercial programs.
Many of the best FOSS applications are used every day by millions of people:
LibreOffice to replace Microsoft Office
VLC media player for snappy, smooth playback of all types of audio and video files
Workrave for getting you off your butt to take breaks 🙂
PDF Creator for making pdf files
Blender for video editing and making 3D graphics
Inkscape for making vector graphics (replaces Adobe Illustrator)
Handbrake for compressing and converting videos to other file formats
Audacity for recording and editing audio
GantPVV for project management (replaces Microsoft Project)
GnuCash to replace Quicken and Microsoft Money
Dia for flowcharts and diagrams
FreeMind for mind mapping
Scribus for publishing layout
Juice for subscribing and listening to podcasts
RSSOwl for managing and reading RSS feeds
Firefox for surveillance-free web browsing
This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are tons more FOSS applications for business: data visualization, content management, intelligence and reporting, programming, project management, enterprise resource planning, and more.
Linux is a decentralized computer operating system. It’s free and open-source. I’m mentioning Linux separately from other FOSS software because of its fundamental importance in providing computing freedom to us all.
The operating system is the gatekeeper to all our computing. The centralized control and potential for abuse when two companies (like Microsoft and Apple) are the gatekeeper for billions of computers is staggering. Companies are subject to the orders (including secret ones) of whatever regime they report to. The security of the operating system can be secretly undermined (what’s known as a backdoor). The public can’t inspect or audit the source code, so we don’t know what Windows or Apple OS are doing behind the scenes.
That’s where Linux comes in. Linux lets you completely replace Windows and Apple OS with a free and open alternative which is considered by experts to be more stable and secure. Linux can run side by side with your current operating system; you don’t have to delete it.
Linux doesn’t track you, store your personal information, and sell you as a product to third party advertisers like commercial operating systems do. Windows 10 has been lambasted for its highly invasive surveillance of its users. Even when you supposedly turn off all its tracking and reporting, it doesn’t really work. (And any software that demands you agree to a 12,000 word legal contract should be cause for concern.)
Linux comes in different flavors called “distributions.” Which distribution (or “distro” for short) you use is a matter of personal preference. They all have a different look and feel. A few distros which are are attractive and easy to get up and running are Mint, Ubuntu, openSUSE, and elementaryOS.
(There’s also a specialized version of Linux called Tails that’s specially made to provide the highest levels of security and privacy for people who are journalists, whistleblowers, or in other high risk situations where maximum computing security is crucial.)
A fellow Liberty.me member made what I think is a great suggestion for people who are open to trying Linux but want to dip their toe rather than cannonball into the pool. Whether you’re on Windows or Mac, install VirtualBox (it’s free), and then install Linux Mint into VirtualBox. It will let you play around and see if you’re comfortable with it while keeping your Windows or Apple OS fully intact.
Other ways to try out Linux are to run it from a DVD or USB stick, or install it as a dual-boot option. (Dual boot just means that every time you turn on your computer, you can choose which operating system to use.)
There are thousands of pages of regulations controlling what companies can manufacture and how those items should be taxed and sold. 3D printers are decentralizing manufacturing power into the hands of everyone. You not only can make cool and useful things like watches but also fun, artistic stuff that can be customized to your liking. You can even print your own custom wardrobe.
If you’ve never seen a 3D printer in action, here’s a fun demonstration of a robot being printed.
Far more complex objects can be made too, like full-scale motorcycle sculptures.
And get this: It’s possible to print skin, blood vessels, and medications.
New consumer-priced printers are coming online which can print multiple materials such as wood, iron, and limestone. If it hasn’t already been done, I’m sure somebody soon will print the parts to build a tiny home.
Even gun manufacturing is being decentralized by 3D printing. Whatever your view of guns is regarding who should or shouldn’t own them, 3D printers have put that decision in individuals’ hands. People can now download and print free, open-source guns and get specifications and manufacturing assistance from the non-profit organization Defense Distributed.
Have an idea? Invent new creations with 3D modeling software. People around the world are sharing their designs in free online libraries containing hundreds of thousands of objects waiting to be printed. Here are a bunch of free resources to get started.
The Maker Movement
The maker movement is about empowering individuals to design, assemble, and manufacture real-world objects. Maker culture has an open, community-based spirit that relies on sharing and collaboration, sometimes in person. It exists outside the formal business manufacturing sphere, which is swamped by workplace regulations.
Knowledge about manufacturing processes, blueprints, schematics, and other technical information are distributed freely under what’s known as open-source hardware (OSH). This free access to technical knowledge about design and manufacturing processes, along with highly affordable CNC machines, 3D printers, free CAD software, and electronic components such as the wildly popular Raspberry Pi and Arduino have opened up a universe of possibilities. Individuals can invent and bring to life products that not long ago would have required a factory and millions of dollars in proprietary software and hardware.
If the maker movement is unfamiliar to you, check out some of the surprising and often entertaining creations people have made.
Deep Web Markets
But some people want even more decentralization. They would rather trade directly with one other, no middleman whatsoever, if only they had a good way to do so. Some believe a willing buyer and willing seller should be free to peacefully exchange whatever they want without third party permission or fees.
Politicians of course disagree. They’ve issued thousands of laws around what people are allowed to buy and sell to each other, and under what terms. For example, up until this year it was a criminal act for an American to buy a Cuban cigar — anywhere — even if traveling in another country.
Those who object to needing politicians’ permission to trade with each other now have unprecedented ability to do so. Deep web markets have fully decentralized trade. They are online markets completely unregulated by any political regime.
Because these markets are unregulated and untaxed, they are a target for law enforcers. Politically prohibited goods like drugs are freely on offer, for example. To avoid instant shut-down, these markets exist on what’s called the deep web.
Deep web sites look like normal web sites, but they don’t use .com or .org style addresses. They’re “deep” (or sometimes called “dark”) because they aren’t seen or listed by search engines like Google. Instead of .com, deep web markets typically use .onion. That’s because accessing them requires the use of free open-source software called Tor. When Tor is used in conjunction with a VPN, it provides a very high degree of privacy and anonymity. If you’re curious to see a deep web market in action, here’s a guide for accessing one of the more popular ones, AlphaBay. The site DeepDotWeb covers news from AlphaBay and other deep web markets.
NXT FreeMarket and OpenBazaar are taking innovative approaches which are by design even more decentralized than using Tor. That’s because they don’t use servers, whereas Tor does. Not relying on servers means there’s no “middleman” directing internet traffic which can possibly be co-opted by government agents or private thieves and fraudsters.
Deep web markets make private commercial exchange uncensorable. And because deep web markets all use cryptocurrency, they’re open to the 2.5 billion people who are unbanked and locked out of doing business with vendors who only accept payments from credit cards or PayPal.
Blockchain, Colored Coins, Dapps, Oh My!
The advent of cryptocurrencies is not only about decentralizing money and banking. It’s about decentralizing the ability to prove rightful ownership. That process has traditionally been centralized in expense-laden, highly regulated firms like title companies.
Decentralizing proof of ownership is now possible thanks to blockchain technology. A blockchain is a digital ledger, a time-stamped record of events, such as any kind of transaction. Unlike other ledgers, a blockchain can’t be forged or doctored up to commit fraud or cover up past wrongdoing.
Blockchain technology will obviate a host of expensive, centralized, government-regulated services. There will be no more need to rely on or pay third parties like title companies or notaries.
While bitcoin relies on blockchain technology, many other assets can too, such as stocks, bonds, and properties. For example, Equibit is building a decentralized securities platform.
The ownership and exchange of these assets is recorded using what are called colored coins. A colored coin serves as a 100% verifiable, time-stamped proof of ownership of an asset, whether it’s tangible like a house or car, or digital like financial instruments, certificates, and contracts. Factom is a leader in providing this service.
Blockchain technology can also be used to provide decentralized solutions for data storage. If you use Dropbox, you have to trust that they’ll keep your data secure, something that Edward Snowden specifically warned against. A decentralized alternative to Dropbox is Storj. Storj not only replaces Dropbox with better security, it pays you for helping others store their (encrypted) data using your free hard drive space.
Another potential boon of blockchain technology is smart contracts, “applications that run exactly as programmed without any possibility of downtime, censorship, fraud or third party interference.” Ethereum is the current leader in providing a programming language for creating smart contracts. These fall under the heading of a new term called Dapps. Dapps (pronounced dee-apps) are decentralized apps. That means their architecture is based upon the principle of decentralization.
Dapps are in their earliest days, but there are many projects in development, as well as some interesting ones which have already launched, like Augur, a decentralized prediction market; Bitnation, a decentralized and borderless nation; and Akasha, an uncensorable decentralized social network.
These technologies are bleeding edge stuff. They’re not ready for widespread adoption, but developers are hard at work making them turnkey. We use computers, the internet, and light switches every day without understanding how they work. So it will be with this stuff. What’s important is these technologies have the potential to decentralize finance, investing, law, content distribution, and other areas in such a fundamental way that it just might be comparable to the pre versus post Internet age.
The internet in not a fully decentralized system. It has “choke points” that can be censored, shut down, and otherwise manipulated. Mesh networking is the solution for a decentralized internet.
Blockchain technology will allow secure, robust mesh networks without choke points to be established. It will feel like the internet of today to end users but won’t be subject to censorship or top-down control by any centralized institution. There are several mesh networking projects in development. Here’s a preview of blockchain based one called MegaNet.
Other decentralized networking projects are already up and running. The Serval Project creates a decentralized mesh network of cell phone users without the need for any phone company. In Europe Funkfeuer is a free, decentralized, DIY wireless network.
The regime is taking steps to undermine mesh networking (for “security,” of course), so hopefully more decentralized solutions are on the way.
Aspiring authors never had it so good thanks to decentralization. No more having to plead with book publishers to show your work to the world. Authors can self-publish and if they need funding, they can go directly to readers to solicit support. Like music, there are a host of crowdfunding sites eager to help you fund writing projects.
Thank you, decentralization, and specifically WordPress, for allowing me to publish this book for free and without anyone’s permission!
Few people have benefited more from decentralization than music lovers.
Both the creation and distribution of music have been radically decentralized.
Sure you can pick up a guitar and play a song for somebody. But the ability to record an album and have your work distributed to millions of people was until recent years controlled by a highly centralized music industry. Artists often had little creative control, and their ability to be heard was at the mercy of record executives. Just the act of recording and mixing an album was beyond the financial means of most artists, as it required expensive studio time, recording gear, and technicians to operate that gear.
Not any more.
Anybody who has a computer can create music. Software programs called DAWs (digital audio workstation) are a one-stop shop for composing, editing, mixing, and mastering songs. The most popular DAW is FL Studio, but there are lots of choices, including some free ones. In creative hands, all of them are capable of producing great music.
Don’t own any real instruments? No worries. Most DAWs come with built-in virtual instruments called VST instruments. It’s like having a room full of different instruments capable of producing realistic and wildly out-there sounds. Can’t afford a grand piano? Here’s one for free. An entire symphony orchestra can be at your fingertips.
DAWs make it so easy to be creative that you don’t need to be a formally trained musician to make music.
What if a bunch of people like your stuff and you want to make a living by offering them more? This, too, has been decentralized.
Rather than having to beg record labels for advances to cover the costs of making an album, artists can now go straight to their fans, peer-to-peer, and ask for their support. And though an artist can just give people a bitcoin or Paypal address, Patreon, Indiegogo, Kickstarter, and PledgeMusic provide artists a professionally developed platform to fund their productions costs.
The decentralization of song distribution through Bandcamp, Soundcloud, Youtube, and a bunch of other services means if you’re content is good, you can build an audience for free. And with services like DistroKid, for a few dollars your songs can be automatically monetized through every major streaming service and online music store.
When the music business started decentralizing, record labels screamed and howled that it would be the death of music. Silence will haunt the airwaves! And yet, more music across more genres is being created today than ever before in history. You can choose from a million different songs to listen to for free, right now.
Movies for much of their history were dominated by the highly centralized “studio system.” Shooting, editing, and distributing a film cost a fortune.
These days high quality video can be taken by inexpensive cameras, including ones strapped to you for dear life. Video editing software like Premiere, Final Cut, Avid, and the free and open source Blender, are more capable than million-dollar editing systems of the past.
Unlike music and books, however, making a film isn’t so much of a do-it-yourself process. Even if you write and direct, it’s likely lots of other people will be involved. Still, the barriers to entry have come crashing down. With a clever script, full-length films can be made for as little as a few thousand dollars instead of millions. In other words, it’s perfectly feasible to crowdfund a film through Indiegogo, Kickstarter, and several other film-focused crowdfund platforms.
The growth and decentralization of games over the years has made for a much broader range of content. Yes there are still lots of cute characters and shooting stuff, but there are also games about music, cooking, the horrors of war, and most anything else you can imagine.
Many people don’t realize video games are a bigger industry than film. It used to be that large centralized publishing companies would control what game projects got funded, as well as their physical distribution into stores.
Now sophisticated games can be made by individuals thanks to incredible advancements in technology. Most games are highly graphical and need an “engine” to drive them. It used to be that game developers had to make their own proprietary engines from scratch, at huge difficulty and expense.
Today an aspiring game developer can get a project up and running instantly by using the CryEngine, Unreal Engine, or Unity Engine. All of them are commercially proven, extraordinarily capable, and insanely affordable. In CryEngine’s case it’s pay-what-you-want, and all of them are free for personal use.
The decentralization of real-time 3D graphics away from what used to be wildly expensive hardware and software means people can train themselves for free on these engines. You don’t need expensive school certifications to be qualified for high-paying jobs in the games industry.
Thousands of people produce professional quality work and share it for free. And for entrepreneurial spirits, you can create your own game, or build one with friends. Here’s an example of two broke guys with no professional experience whose modest game idea turned into a successful crowdfund and then a wildly successful product. Bringing joy to millions made them millionaires.
While games are still marketed in traditional retail outlets, online distribution of games has opened the field for all. Any game creator can sell a game online directly to consumers, though the infrastructure for doing this has been made turnkey by Steam and upstart competitor GOG Galaxy.
Virtual reality is going to decentralize the physical world.
This might sound crazy, but bear with me. The sights and sounds of the physical world have many barriers to entry — political, financial, temporal, not to mention our own physical abilities. This is the year virtual reality will start tearing down those barriers.
2016 marks the mainstream launch of dedicated virtual reality (VR) hardware. With VR, your sense of sight and sound are completely immersed. In other words, your field of vision is completely inside a computer-generated world, with full sense of depth (like a 3D movie but much, much better). Here’s a rough idea of what it’s like:
Some VR worlds will be abstract and fantastical. Others will be highly detailed recreations of real places. There will come a time where you can take a virtual stroll through famous museums, ancient Greek and Egyptian temples, and other visually fascinating places. You will be able to climb Everest. The decentralization of physical locations will cause a tectonic shift in our experience of life and travel.
The VR charge is currently being led by Oculus and Vive on desktop computers, Sony PlayStation VR on game consoles, and Gear VR on smart phones. Billions in R&D are rapidly driving VR forward, and other tech giants like Apple and Google will be launching next-generation VR solutions too.
People’s conception of art will be redefined by VR. Painting in VR has no physical boundaries. There’s no edge to the canvas. Artists will be able to show their work to anyone in the world instantly and with perfect fidelity. Take a look at the first steps in the evolution of drawing, painting, and sculpture.
VR will also be able to recreate many of the sensory feelings and excitement of real-life experiences for people who would otherwise be unable to access them. Here’s a look at an upcoming VR rock climbing simulator. Just remember in VR this will fill your entire field of vision, with full depth perception. And you’ll be the one looking around and climbing.
It’s also worth mentioning augmented reality (AR). Augmented Reality is when computer-generated elements are seamlessly integrated into your view of the real world. Wearing AR glasses, you could look at your actual bed and watch a robot do back-flips while telling you jokes. Just saying.
VR and AR are in their infancy, but they will redefine our conception of visiting places, meeting and collaborating with people, learning, hobbies, and hanging out with friends. (And “adult entertainment.”)
The incredible power of peer-to-peer networks has let people do paid work for others around the world while bypassing rafts of employment regulations and historical cross-border hindrances to commerce.
The contract work people are offering range across every field, and the offers for providing services start at only a few dollars. On the lower end of the cost-per-project scale is Fiverr (which accepts bitcoin), Fourerr, Zeerk, TenBux, and others. Freelancer and Upwork are at the higher end of the spectrum. TaskRabbit is for connecting people locally who need ad hoc work done like deliveries, cleaning, and moving help.
I saved the biggest, most decentralized phenomenon for last. The ‘D’ doesn’t stand for decentralization, but it should.
System D is the global, unregulated, untaxed, cash economy. Think of it as the handshake economy.
System D encompasses the actions of over a billion people who exchange goods and services every day. Ever paid cash to somebody to mow the lawn or clean your home? That’s System D.
Because System D bypasses the entire government apparatus of regulation, licensing, permitting, and taxation, governments call it the “shadow” or “underground” economy. But it’s hardly in the shadows. System D is everywhere in daily life. Nobody knows its current size because no government can track it, but System D is estimated at $10 trillion per year.
System D is the closest thing to a global free market we have. Regimes hate physical cash and are actively waging what’s known as the war on cash. Sweden has provided the cash eradication blueprint for everywhere else.
Americans, if you doubt this is happening, go to your bank and try to withdraw five thousand dollars. You’ll not only be interrogated, you will likely not get your money. Then you’ll be reported to the government for “suspicious activity.”
System D and deep web markets will continue to grow as regimes impose more and more prohibitions against voluntarily exchange. The bright side of the war on cash is it will drive cryptocurrency adoption as people move to regain control over their money.
– part 3 –
LIBERTY IN ONE LESSON
The Age of Decentralization will be a profoundly liberating period for humanity. But humanity is just a label for billions of individuals. Let’s think about what freedom means for you and me, right now.
Are you free?
What does liberty mean to you?
Some people think of liberty as “freedom from” bad stuff. For example, one might say freedom from assault, extortion, theft, and murder. A free life would mean no others were forcefully imposing their will on you.
But to live a free life by this standard would require self-imposed exile from modern civilization, perhaps with a handful of others who share an identical understanding of “freedom from” as you. Not a situation most people are seeking…
As long as we live in a world of political apartheid, a “free life” by this standard isn’t going to happen any time soon. Even “don’t hurt people or take their stuff” gets a near-universal nod of approval, but then quickly falls apart as people debate what degree of extortion should be imposed on others to pay for things they prefer.
Others think of a free life in terms of “freedom to.” In other words, do you have the means and opportunity to do what you want in life? This could involve various physical abilities or skills. But many people think of this standard of liberty in terms of money — so-called financial freedom.
People around the world rank money as their top source of stress. If only I were free from debt… If only I could afford a nice home… If only I could get a job that paid enough to save for a comfortable retirement… Freedom is always just out of reach when people base it on money.
What about the few who are rich? Are those who have lots of zeroes and possessions free? Doesn’t seem so. Those who have more material comforts are perhaps less free. Wealthy Americans commit suicide at higher rates, including those with highly paid professions. Many people who win the lottery fall into a spiral of misery and see it as the worst thing that ever happened to them.
In Search of Rights
Ask some people what liberty means and they’ll reply, “It means I have rights.” For Americans, many point to their “unalienable rights” to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence.
The blood of millions around the world has been spilled by people “fighting for their rights.” But in actuality, rights are a fuzzy concept that deserve closer examination because they’re integral to most people’s conception of liberty.
Do you view rights as the key to your freedom? If so, can you list what your rights are?
How do you know you have them? Where do they come from? Do we all have the same human rights?
Political documents like the U.S. Constitution, the Russian Constitution, and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen enumerate all sorts of human rights. They all proclaim how fundamental and paramount they are. In fact virtually all 197 regimes have constitutions which list a bunch of human rights and solemnly promise not to violate them.
But hold on a minute. What the heck is a right?
I’ve asked several professors, lawyers, and judges. None of them were able to give a definitive answer. The most useful distinction a couple of them offered was to point out that so-called legal rights are actually just privileges granted by a particular government. For example, saying you have the right to appeal your conviction really just means the regime has granted you the privilege of appeal.
Are there any rights which aren’t simply privileges granted by politicians? Are there universal human rights? If so, what are they? What would they mean in practice? Where would they come from?
Let’s think through the possibilities.
Some people say rights come from nature — “natural rights” — but they can’t quite put their finger on what nature is or demonstrate what specific rights nature has granted to our species. If a monkey runs off with your lunch, are your natural rights infringed? If a lion eats you, is that a rights violation? Or is eating you just the lion exercising its animal rights?
If you lived by yourself on an island, would you have rights? How would you know you had them?
I’ve never seen a right, and there’s no genetic or physical evidence that they exist. Most people limit their definition of nature to the material world; otherwise anybody could claim anything is part of nature.
That said, several really smart people like John Locke, Thomas Paine, and others over the past few centuries have made various claims about what natural rights are. Their efforts seem mostly to have been an intellectual assault on the racket known as the divine right of kings.
Most people today no longer buy the “divine right” argument that gods grant certain people special powers over the rest of us. So while the proponents of natural rights (and natural law) won the battle against the divine rights racket, it doesn’t mean they’re correct.
Just because divine rights don’t exist, it doesn’t mean “natural” ones do.
If something isn’t observable or measurable, it’s tough to claim it’s in the realm of nature. The nine-ish million other species on Earth don’t speak English, but many of them clearly prefer life (they run, hide, or fight if threatened) and liberty (they attempt to escape capture).
Maybe rights are spiritual? Some people (including some natural rights advocates) claim rights come from God or “our Creator.” But ask a million people around the world who or what God is, and you’ll get thousands of different answers. If rights are predicated on religious faith, which God or gods from these religions have the final say? Do atheists still get rights?
I never thought I’d be saying this, but let’s turn to politics to see if we can find meaningful answers.
If that’s true, does the Bill of Rights apply to all humans? Or do you need to be on the tax rolls of the IRS for them to count? But then, how can they be human rights? It would instead make them privileges granted by the regime to those it presumes to rule. The U.S. Bill of Privileges would be a more proper designation.
If you believe the U.S. Bill of Rights is universal, what do we do about the conflicts and additions of other lists of human rights enumerated by other regimes in their political documents?
The U.N. to the Rescue!
In 1948 the United Nations stepped up to be the rights decider. It drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. An impressive 48 regimes, including the United States, voted to approve and adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It has since been translated into 467 languages.
Whew, finally. That settles it!
Do you know what any of these “universal human rights” are? There are 30 articles enumerating them. Here are some highlights.
The U.N. proclaims we all have the “right to life, liberty and security of person.” Sounds lovely, but there’s no real explanation of what that actually means. It’s close to the “unalienable rights” to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Some of our universal human rights are more specific. For instance, we have the right to not be enslaved. (“No one shall be held in slavery or servitude.”)
Great news! One problem, though. This right is contradicted by the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which expressly authorizes slavery for anyone judged non-compliant with the regime’s rules. Apparently human rights don’t apply to the millions of people who are literally “slaves of the State.”
What else? We have the universal human right to not be “subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”
When Obama said, “We tortured some folks,” what does anybody, much less the U.N., do about that? Do the torture victims get a handwritten apology? A nice gift basket? What do we think happens at black sites?
We have the right to not suffer “arbitrary arrest or detention.” What to make of regime kidnapping and trial-less imprisonment, also known as extraordinary rendition?
We have a universal right to a “fair and public hearing” regarding any alleged crime, where one is “presumed innocent until proved guilty.” How do secret courts and secret kill lists fit into the rights picture? If one of us makes a kill list, that’s an act of terrorism.
How can universal rights only apply to some people some of the time?
How about mass government stalking? “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence.” It’s like the U.N. is channeling the 4th Amendment. If the regime stalks everyone, then it’s no longer arbitrary?
What about our stuff? “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.” Seizing people’s property without trial or conviction seems pretty arbitrary.
How about taxes? Apparently taxes aren’t arbitrary because politicians get to decide how much of our property to take? The extent and effect of our rights is subject to the regime’s judgment, evidently. Otherwise taxes would be voluntary.
So far, all these U.N. declared rights roughly overlap with the U.S. Bill of Rights. But then things get much more complicated.
The U.N. declares that every human has “the right to social security,” “the right to work,” “the right to equal pay,” “the right to education,” and “the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.”
So many questions for the rights deciders… Who is our pay equal to? How many clothing outfits do we have the right to? Is our rightful food organic and fair trade?
Are any particular surgeries, tests, or medications not covered by our right to medical care? Does our rightful housing have a TV?
Do we get textbooks, or is our education to be provided online? Speaking of online, everybody gets internet, right? But on which model of laptop? (Who can write a term paper on a smart phone?)
The United States approved this Universal Declaration of Human Rights, so does that mean Americans “have” them? Are the U.N.’s universal rights a bonus add-on to the U.S. Bill of Rights? When they directly conflict — like the prohibition against slavery — who is the decider?
What about all the other rights listed in the other regimes’ constitutions? Maybe somebody should collate them so we can find out, once and for all, exactly what rights we have.
Sooner or later some party pooper is bound to ask, Who keeps track of and pays for all these rights? Who keeps tabs on all the stubborn hold-outs who don’t buy into these rights laundry lists?
What if the regimes who assure us we have these rights violate them on a daily basis? What if the self-appointed rights enforcers are the ones doing the violating?
Lots of confusion and high stakes — a dream for power-seeking demagogues.
If human rights exist, they are not a privilege. A privilege is granted by a person or group of people. For example, if a person lends you her car, she’s granting you the privilege of using it temporarily. If somebody donates his kidney to you, it’s a privilege bestowed upon you. Not even the U.N. claims we have a right to others’ organs.
Human rights aren’t privileges, because nobody grants them. If they exist, they exist. They don’t require a handful of politicians to decide what they are.
If we assume for the moment that human rights of some sort exist, what would that mean in practical terms?
It would mean that a human right is a universal obligation. It would mean everyone else is obligated to do certain things for you, or not do certain things to you. And you would have the same obligation to everyone else.
An obligation is a serious thing. When somebody is obligated to you, it means he or she owes you something. It’s not a suggestion. Universal human rights are the equivalent of everyone saying to each other, “You owe me!”
The Never-Ending Rights Debate
So, what do we all owe each other? Who decides?
When it comes to answering this question, some take a minimalist position. They claim the only thing people owe each other is peaceful interaction, or what some term non-aggression.
In other words, we’re all obligated to not steal from, extort, assault, or murder each other. Don’t hurt me or take my stuff. Live and let live.
This is probably the most narrow interpretation of what the “unalienable rights” to “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” (and security if you believe the U.N.) means in practice. Do whatever floats your boat, but don’t splash anyone else.
It all sounds promising…at first blush. But as soon as we move past the words and into practice, people can’t agree on what live and let live actually means.
To some, aggression is only the initiation of physical violence against someone’s body or “rightful” property. Others include threats, but that’s a whole standard in and of itself to be endlessly debated.
Some would say that verbal hatred fits the bill — for example walking down the street with a sign saying, “All Jews are evil and ought to be killed.” Half of Americans approve of banning hate speech, regardless of the seeming “human right” to free speech.
And education, medical care, food, employment, social services (whatever those may be)? Many people would earnestly argue that they’re essential to living and pursuing happiness.
Here’s what it boils down to: If I have universal human rights to life, liberty, security, and the pursuit of happiness, you in some measure owe me those things. And I owe you them too.
But what are the boundaries of those obligations? Do you owe me protection if I’m in physical danger? If so, how much? What if you die saving me?
How much medical care do you need to provide if my health is faltering? Who decides what health is? What if there aren’t enough pills and doctors to go around?
Do my rights to liberty and the pursuit of happiness include my ability to travel where I want? Or is that right subject to regime permission? (The world didn’t always have passports.)
How can a right be subject to anyone’s permission if it’s a right?
If I’m born into dire poverty without living essentials like clean water, food, and shelter, are you obligated to help me survive? What’s my redress if you shirk your duty?
Once we go down the rights road, a million questions like these arise. As long as people believe in rights, they will literally fight over them until the end of time.
Rights, Unicorns, and Entitlement Culture
What if rights are really just a cover for the political racket?
Like unicorns, nobody can definitively prove human rights don’t exist, because you can’t prove a negative.
But I’ll say it anyway: Universal human rights are a myth. There never has been, nor will there ever be, agreement about which universal human rights exist and how they should be protected or enforced.
Human rights is a conversation with billions of people talking past each other. When the rubber meets the road of reality, the entire rights paradigm begs for a decider. It begs for centralization.
That’s why I have it in for rights, and not unicorns.
If picking your own pet list of rights and convictions about how they should be protected and remedied in case of violation makes you feel freer, more power to you. In my experience it’s barking up the wrong tree.
There’s one phenomenon that’s observable throughout history in all times and places: Humans are gonna think what they’re gonna think, and they’re gonna do what they’re gonna do.
The trillions of acts of kindness, generosity, mercy, and compassion aren’t because of rights. And the trillions of predatory acts weren’t prevented or remedied by rights. People do what they’re gonna do, and they deal with the consequences, whatever they may be.
Nothing scarce in this world — manpower, time, or physical resources — is free. And yet, it is human nature to help one another because helping people feels good. It makes us feel valued.
The more people feel good about helping others, the more they tend to do it. But when politicians make a list of rights and tell people they’re owed a litany of things by virtue of having a pulse or a passport, the spontaneous impulse and satisfaction of helping others withers.
Choice becomes obligation. Appreciation becomes expectation. Arguments ensue over who is getting what and when. Rights run into the reality of scarcity.
When everybody believes they have a right to a vast array of goods and services, it creates an entitlement culture. When you owe a person something, it means he or she is entitled to that thing. The flip side of entitlement is obligation.
People start shouting, “There ought to be a law!” and the pols are only too happy to comply. The forces of centralization coalesce, and the racket swells in power.
The entitlement mindset that rights engender leads people to forever look over their shoulders, feel cheated, put upon, and taken advantage of.
Rights undermine compassion for others. When you feel owed, it’s hard to feel gratitude. Instead you’re more likely to have a chip on your shoulder.
Rights make us look outside ourselves to deal with conflict. We go running to the rights enforcers, and inevitably ask them to “recognize” other rights.
Is human understanding and cooperation advanced by forcing people to do things they don’t want to do “because rights”? It only plays into the divide and conquer racket.
This is the mechanics of politics. The dividing and conquering is done with rights. Politicians tell various groups of people that they’re entitled (they have a right!) to all sorts of things which they happen to want. They promise, in return for a vote, to get the group everything they believe they’re entitled to.
This is how politicians get their “mandate” to to govern. In other words, to use compulsory force as they see fit. This is how the political racket coalesces.
Golden Rule to the Rescue?
If we stop relying on rights to define liberty, perhaps just following the Golden Rule would save the day. After all, it’s the most time-honored and cross-cultural moral code in the world. Is this all we really need?
Sadly, no. The Golden Rule only works if people all share the same preferences for how they wish to live and be treated.
If a smoker relishes filling his lungs with cigarette smoke, second hand smoke is compatible with the Golden Rule.
If a masochist desires to be hurt, why can’t he hurt others per the Golden Rule?
If a person seeks to kill himself for whatever reason (political protest, religious belief, etc.), how does the Golden Rule prohibit taking others lives as well?
Per the Golden Rule, people who hate something (e.g. marijuana, pornography, alcohol) can welcome forced prohibition not only on themselves but on others.
People who have total conviction that particular behaviors are destructive and immoral (e.g. homosexuality, prostitution, eating pork, gambling) can welcome forced prohibition to ensure they don’t veer from the path of righteousness and view that imposition on everyone else as equally beneficial.
Millions who believe in universal human rights to health care, clothing, food, housing, education, and employment have no problem advocating the forceful imposition of taxation on themselves, and per the Golden Rule, everyone else.
If you sign up to serve a regime’s military believing it’s every person’s duty to fight whatever regime needs conquering, forced military conscription should be welcomed under the Golden Rule.
The examples and variations are endless. People don’t have a universal understanding or agreement about any sort of moral code. We can nod our head at a few words, but what they mean in practice becomes a never-ending source of debate and contention.
The Golden Rule is a mirage because people don’t all share the same preferences for how they wish to live and be treated. People are willing to impose all sorts of things on themselves that may be horrifically objectionable or harmful when imposed on others.
We’re far too complex, contradictory, and irreducible to assume the existence of a universal moral code covering billions of people.
Does this mean there should be no standard, no rules, for how we treat each other? Of course not. There should be lots of competing standards and rule sets that people can understand and opt into.
If we want to find and associate with others who will treat us the way we wish to be treated, the answer is decentralization.
The centralization inherent to politics doesn’t cut it because, due to political apartheid, we can’t just up and join whatever “rule domain” suits us.
Besides, political centralization stifles competition. There are only 197 political domains for 7.4 billion people. Millions of people living under one rule domain is ridiculous and bound to cause massive conflicts.
Freedom and Property Rights
On our quest to figure out what liberty is really about, we have to deal with ownership.
For many years I thought liberty was about property rights.
Property rights are a social construct used to deal with economic scarcity. They’re not a “human right.” They are grounded in custom and contract, whether politically sanctioned or privately negotiated.
We live in a world of material scarcity, not utopian bounty. Every human being takes up space on scarce habitable ground. We all consume scarce food, scarce clean water, and scarce resources to clothe, shelter, and entertain ourselves. All 7.4 billion of us are running around every day, endlessly consuming and (sorry to be specific) expelling gasses, liquids, and solids…along with billions of tons of trash.
We’re really, really good at consuming and expelling. Live and let live sounds nice, but things get complicated in practice.
People try to resolve the inevitable conflicts which arise over the unpleasant reality of material scarcity (and our propensity to expel) by saying, “I have property rights!”
In other words, if I have somehow come to “rightfully own” the land, the food, the natural resources, the factory, etc., then I have the right to use or consume them as I see fit, at the exclusion of everyone else. And because I “rightfully own” said property, I get to decide what happens to it when I die.
But how was my rightful ownership established in the first place?
Nobody alive today was the original homesteader of any land or natural resource. And it’s not sufficient to say there was a purchase, inheritance, or gift.
The ownership lineage of physical assets in today’s world is an infinitely complex web riddled with what most people would describe as fundamental rights violations. “Rightful ownership” is enmeshed with generations of predatory behavior at the individual and institutional level across billions of people.
All physical things in our world are rooted to varying degrees in the plunder of literally thousands of wars and genocides, trillions of acts of political extortion, confiscation, expropriation, and redistribution, billions of acts of private theft and fraud, and the enslavement of millions. The tracing of each “property right violation” is categorically impossible.
Because virutally all tangible goods (or the natural resources used to manufacture them) are to some measure tainted by extortion, fraud, slavery, or outright theft, there’s no practical way to “set things right.”
It just is, and it sucks. If you’re well off, you’ll likely lose no sleep over this. The status quo is working for you.
But to the couple billion people around the world who own essentially nothing — who have no property or savings whatsoever with which to train or invest in themselves — who have no access to capital goods to produce products to advance their material wealth through commerce — it’s hardly a shoulder shrug issue. “Property rights” don’t ring so clear and righteous.
This might sound abstract and easy to brush off. All I can say is, travel.
Go meet and spend time with people born with nothing in poor countries — people who work their asses off to earn 5-10 dollars per day. Look them in the eyes and remind yourself that a military-industrial complex CEO paid by Saudi petrodollar taxes “earns” more in one day than that person makes every forty years.
It makes property rights seem like a cynical joke. The web of coercion-tainted ownership unfolds like an endless fractal. That MIC executive takes his paycheck and buys a yacht. Is he the “rightful owner”? When you obtain something through extortion, are you the rightful owner?
If extortion, fraud, or slavery are institutionalized as legal by a political regime, does that change anything? If we buy goods produced by regime-approved slave labor, are we the 100% pure and true “rightful owners” of those goods? It is what it is, but it certainly isn’t black and white.
Boeing Case Study
Boeing has a larger market cap than the GDP of most of the world’s nations. Millions of people own Boeing stock individually, through mutual funds, and through pensions. Boeing’s biggest and most long-standing customer is the U.S. regime.
What happens when Boeing stock goes up because billions in extorted petrodollars fund bombers which destroy innocent people’s property?
Millions take commercial rides on Boeing planes, funding R&D for the next WMD. The fuel that powers the bombers may be purchased with petrodollars sent to the Saudi regime. Who is the “rightful owner” of those oil fields?
The thousands of parts and natural resource inputs that go into building just one bomber fall into the same entangled web of coercion, whether legally sanctioned or not. People sell their stock for a profit, then pay taxes which fund future WMDs and wars.
It’s an endlessly complex matrix of coercion-riddled ownership.
This isn’t to make you feel guilty. We’re all caught in this hopelessly tangled web. It’s inescapable. But it’s important to confront the fact that we’re all culpable in this world for others’ suffering in ways we don’t consider or even understand.
Even if there was a global “property rights” reset button, the re-establishment of “rightful ownership” would be in many ways another arbitrary mad scramble involving dumb luck, conquest, fraud, and every other manner of predation imaginable. And of course mixed in with all that would be fair dealing, merit, and honest exchange.
Life isn’t fair, and saying that rights exist doesn’t change the complexity of human nature or material scarcity. Certainly the concept of ownership and the agreements we formulate around it help us avoid conflict with others over use and trade. But there’s no need to mix them into the muddled morass of “human rights.”
Ownership is a social agreement rooted in customs, contract, and ultimately, trust. Without that social agreement, ownership is really just might makes right — meaning, you only own what you can physically protect and control.
Giving Up the Myth
While writing this I asked my mother what a right is. Without so much as a blink she said, “A right is what you think you have.”
Mind blown. Go Mom!
People and the world around us are far too complex and unpredictable to pretend we all have an understanding or agreement about rights. When it comes to people, anything is possible, and it’s clarifying to remember that your personal take on rights doesn’t change that one iota.
Rights really are just our subjective preferences for how we’d like to be treated. They’re subjective because there’s no way to prove that we owe each other anything.
People will forever think they owe each other different things. The implications are huge when we realize how different people really are.
Some, for example, want to be attacked. Some want to be trampled and gored by rampaging animals. Some look to kill even if they likely will be killed. Some look to marry and reproduce with murderous predators. Some even want to be eaten alive, while others want to do the eating. Some just want to die and take others with them.
You might discount those examples by labeling them as extreme or psychotic. I submit it’s just as extreme and psychotic for people to put on different color uniforms and murder each other by the millions because politicians order them to.
Freedom doesn’t require the world to conform to your philosophy of how people should treat each other. Staunch liberty advocates will argue till they’re blue in the face over what a free life should look like. But there is no freedom in should. There’s no liberation in chasing philosophical leprechauns.
Giving up the rights myth redirects us to personal responsibility, humility, and compassion. In the end, we all live at each others mercy anyway. Every day we entrust our lives to complete strangers. The more we remember that we live by the grace of others, the more we’ll appreciate each other.
It’s far more useful to replace a belief in rights with a belief in the power of kindness. The feedback loop of kindness and gratitude is the most constructive force in the world.
When people don’t feel compelled, and when they don’t feel entitled, the human spirit to create, share, and produce blooms in unexpected and miraculous ways. (Witness the Age of Decentralization.)
This leads us to the lesson.
There is no universal conception of liberty. No universal standard.
Freedom is not a thing. It’s not genetic. It has no atomic structure. It cannot be metered or mandated.
Liberty, like value, is subjective.
Freedom is realized and experienced at the individual level. If you feel free, it’s because you found a way to do so.
– part 4 –
FEEL GOOD, FEEL FREE
I’ve wrestled with what freedom means to me for a long time.
For me, liberty is about letting go of needing people and things to be a certain way. People do what they gonna do. We always have, and unless something like The Matrix wipes out human agency, we always will.
Once I came to accept this, I stopped tormenting myself with disappointment, frustration, and anger over the political racket.
I spent years feeling disappointed in reality. It was such a waste. When you feel down, it’s tough to feel free. And it’s hard to want to treat yourself well.
How we use our brain determines what chains we carry or cut in our lives. No matter what our external circumstances are, our brain can ruin our sense of enjoyment and appreciation of life…or defy any hardship and allow us to smile in the face of danger and tragedy.
The quality of our lives is determined by how we respond to events that we can’t control. In this life, we don’t control much. (I can barely control how much chocolate I eat.)
Turns out, trying to control the uncontrollable is a huge waste of time.
That’s not to understate the horrors of the political racket and the lives it destroys every day. It’s just to say that it’s up to you to bring meaning and value to your world. To deny that is to wrap chains around yourself and hand others the key.
The greatest defiance of those who seek to dominate and control is to find a way to feel free no matter what. The world will tell you a million reasons why you can’t — why you’re insufficient, why you should feel afraid, why you should bow and bootlick, why you should constrain your thoughts and actions to what others mandate.
I suggest not doing that.
It makes sense to me to focus on the most important thing I have direct influence over. And that is how I feel.
When I feel good, I notice I feel free.
Of course feeling good is subjective. You have to seek out what that means for yourself.
I’ve learned to embrace uncertainty. My path has changed so many times and likely will continue to. The truth is I know almost nothing about almost everything. I suspect that’s the case for everyone.
The Practice of Feeling Good
People practice all sorts of things and with enough time and effort become mind-bogglingly skillful. Line dancing, neurosurgery, cup stacking, computer programming, throwing balls in hoops…
I’m working on making feeling good a skill.
What follows are practices, techniques, strategies, and ideas which have served me well. I’m sharing them with the hope that they’ll be of use to you too.
It All Starts with Sleep
I never knew I was underslept until I started sleeping in a dark room that stayed dark. If morning light seeps into the room, the photoreceptors in my eyes wake me up, even if I’ve only had five or six hours of sleep. Our bodies do their best adapt to being underslept, and it can make us think that waking up tired is normal.
Sleep deprivation makes us crave sugary junk food and not want to exercise. It makes us more susceptible to illness and accidents. It makes us perform poorly at work and at play. And it makes us way less fun to be around. Major suckage all around.
On the other hand, getting plenty of sleep is a total freaking bonanza.
Put into perspective, sleeping is way more important than eating. Most people can go several weeks, even months, without food, but we die in less than a week without sleep. Sleep deprivation so screws your body up that the regime uses it as a form of torture in concert with strobe lights and metal played at ear-splitting volumes.
So how do you get quality sleep and enough of it? When it comes to computing, use f.lux (it’s free). And try not to be in front of a monitor right before bed time. (If you have to, and especially if you feel any eye strain, try using computer glasses.)
The biggest thing for me is sleeping in a consistently dark room. If you can’t get full blackout curtains, or tin foil the windows, or some other solution, I’ve found that keeping a black t-shirt by the bed is a reliable fallback. If I start to wake up from the morning light, I pull the t-shirt over my eyes and can easily fall back to sleep. (I can’t stand sleeping masks, but they seem to work for some people.)
News Is the Same Old Story
I consumed a ton of news to write this thing. It made me feel terrible. I don’t just mean bobblehead news like CNN, CNBC, and FOX. I also mean unflinching, non-mainstream news.
No matter how many political scandals, bombings, financial crashes, mass shootings, horrific accidents, cop killings, or elections you read about, none of them will make our lives better. You can’t do anything to undo the tragedies, and consuming news won’t enable you to prevent them in the future. It’ll just make you feel shitty.
I waded into the news morass to give a sufficiently representative sampling of how the political racket works. But if you feel you need more, sites like The Anti-Media and The Free Thought Project do an unrelenting job of reporting one awful thing after another.
Once you get a structural understanding of how the system works, news is no longer news. It’s just redundant and depressing confirmation of what you already know. Consuming news fosters low-grade anxiety, anger, and fear. It grinds you down. If something of massive import happens, you’ll hear about it anyway.
If you’re not convinced news should be flushed from your life, please consider these insights. Or try a “news fast” for a couple weeks and see how you feel.
Hang with Feel-Good Peeps
Don’t spend time around people who don’t make you feel good.
Captain Obvious, right? The problem is it’s easy to say, but how many people actually walk the talk?
Those around us hugely impact our well-being. This landmark study of 300,000 people found that having the support of good friends in your life is an even better predictor of your survival than exercise, alcohol consumption, weight, or blood pressure. Even smoking almost a pack of cigarettes a day…
As long as you’re with good friends in that La-Z-Boy with a beer, bag of chips, and cigarette in hand, you’ll outlive all those obnoxious teetotalers. 🙂
Supposedly we’re the average of the five people we spend the most time around. I’m not sure five is a magic number or what average means exactly, but I do know that when I pay attention, I notice how much the people I spend time around influence me and affect how I feel — for better or worse.
This isn’t about labeling people as bad or assholes. Almost everyone has good qualities and is capable of kindness.
This is about self-selecting towards people who consistently make you feel good when you’re around them for whatever reasons. Humans are complicated, and those reasons may change over time, as do people. When that happens, it can be difficult to get unstuck from legacy relationships which no longer feel as good or constructive as they once did.
Sometimes it’s hard to avoid people who are a negative influence. Most of us don’t have the luxury of choosing our co-workers, our customers, or our classmates. And of course our friends may be our family of choice, but we don’t get to choose our parents or siblings.
Minimizing the influence of people who feel yuk to you is a bit counter-intuitive. I’ve found that showing compassion to people who feel negative to you will make you feel better.
By compassion I just mean remind yourself that you (probably) don’t know all their life circumstances or what they may be going through unbeknownst to you. It doesn’t rationalize or excuse bad behavior, but it lets you not carry their burden, whatever it may be. So before you get fired up and curse the person who just cut in front of you on the road, remind yourself that you don’t know what they’re going through. Maybe they just got fired, or found out a loved one died.
Search for people who make you feel good and have characteristics you admire. The way a person makes you feel when you’re around them can tell you so much both about them and about yourself, if you pay attention. Ask yourself why someone makes you feel good. Just being aware of the question will make you more appreciative of them.
Make Osmosis Work for You
I’m convinced that the principle of osmosis applies to people. In other words, the personality, habits, speech patterns, attitudes, preferences, and even physical characteristics of people you spend the most time around, for better or for worse, merge (osmose) into you. It just happens naturally (possibly because of mirror neurons).
If you’re around people who are kind, you’re more likely to be kind. If the people around you are obese, you’re more likely to become obese. If your friends have lousy posture, you probably will too. If they like to joke around, you’ll probably be laughing and joking more too. If they’re hyper-driven stress cases, you’ll probably end up stressing right along with them.
People’s tribal instincts mean they gravitate to those they feel comfortable around. We tend to naturally adapt ourselves to fit in to whatever group we’re in. The trick is seeking out and fitting in with people who make your life better, not worse. Sounds so simple, but doing it takes intention and “listening” skill practiced over time.
If you’d rather be around people who don’t make you feel good than be alone, it’s a signal that you’d benefit from introspection. People are far more complicated than we tend to give ourselves credit for. I’ve known friendly, smiley, brilliant people who really didn’t like themselves. Usually it’s because somebody they loved told them they suck, and they believed it. Or they didn’t achieve something important to them and convinced themselves that they were failures.
I’ve also known hugely ambitious people who use external markers (money is the typical one) to mask internal dissatisfaction with who they are. But of course acting like we’re our account balance, or our stuff, or our achievements, is a delusion that makes people act foolishly and feel empty.
In any case, we can all benefit from kicking our feet up, staring at the ceiling, and asking who we are (or would like to be) and what we want our life to be about.
Bottom line is, if you’re not around people who lift you up rather than drag you down, who feel joy rather than resentment when you’re happy, then amicably part ways. You might try having an honest conversation and see if they can change. In my experience the cliche, “Tigers never change their stripes” isn’t quite right. It’s more that that they don’t change their stripes, unless there’s a fundamental change in their beliefs about the world and who they want to be. Fundamental change in that idea space doesn’t seem to happen all that often, but it does happen. I know because I’ve witnessed it in myself. The me of today would not be friends with the me of not too many years ago.
Even if it’s clear to you that somebody won’t change, the point isn’t to make anybody feel bad or claim superiority. It’s just to move on so you can live a better life.
So choose who you spend time around with care and deliberation. Pay attention not just to your thoughts, but to your whole body, in terms of how you feel around them.
I suspect most of us would like to think of ourselves as independent forces of nature who write our own script in life, so to speak. But it’s much more complex than that. Others influence us in all sorts of ways seen and unseen, intended and unintended. In other words, osmosis is powerful and it has no OFF switch, so take advantage of it, rather than being a victim of it.
If establishing and maintaining great friendships is something you haven’t quite mastered, see if you get any insights from this free-to-download book, Lifeboat.
How to Instantly Look and Feel Better
Most people don’t sit, stand, or walk with good posture. And when posture is mentioned, they tend to thrust their chest forward and yank their shoulders back.
That’s not good posture. That’s looking uptight and stressed out.
Why should we care about posture anyway? Three reasons.
First, if your posture is great, you’re more likely to feel great. This has been demonstrated in countless studies, but you don’t need to rely on research. If you slouch, you’ll feel slouchy. Drop your head into your smart phone for a while and you’ll literally feel your energy level sink.
Second, if you have lousy posture in static positions for hours at a time — like being hunched over a computer or standing at a cash register all day — you’ll likely suffer chronic pain in your back, knees, hips, shoulders, or neck.
Third, if you have good posture, people will find you more attractive and treat you better. Hollywood A-list actors have perfect posture, and it’s an inseparable part of their star power. Tom Cruise is short — 5’7″. Without his exemplary posture he would never have made it as an action star. Check out this viral talk to better understand the immediate physiological impact of posture.
To learn how to dial in great posture, I recommend a book called 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back by Esther Gokhale (pronounced go-clay). The book will fix back pain as advertised, but you don’t need to have any pain issues to greatly benefit from it.
Exercise Is Amazing…and Dangerous
I can’t tell you how many people I know who have hurt themselves trying to do something good for themselves. Namely, exercising. I’ve asked several physios and chiropractors what their biggest source of business is. The three most common answers I’ve gotten are yoga, Crossfit, and running.
I have several friends who have suffered injuries from exercise which have haunted them for years. Exercise is dangerous unless you approach it intelligently. Blindly relying on a teacher or trainer isn’t the answer either, as the aforementioned yoga and Crossfit are led by instructors.
On the other hand, if you approach exercise intelligently, it is darn near miraculous. Moderate exercise improves your:
- quality of sleep
- cognitive function
- energy level
- resistance to illness and disease
- overall physical appearance
So yeah, exercise can make life hugely better. But unlike getting enough sleep, it’s deceptively easy to hurt (even kill) yourself. And exercising in a “motivational” environment, like so many exercise classes and boot camps, creates a competitive mindset which tends to compromise form in the reach for arbitrary external goals like harder poses, highers reps, and heavier weights. That’s a recipe for injury. Injury not only hurts like hell and costs time and money in rehab, but the lack of desire to exercise after sustaining an injury can really set you back. I hurt my shoulder trying (stupidly) to train a one-arm chinup, and it completely derailed my desire to exercise. Hurting all day for months will do that.
So, if you’ve already found a way to exercise that feels sustainable, enjoyable, and doesn’t cause you any pain during or after, that’s fantastic. If not, here’s what I’ve learned the hard way, in case it’s of use to you. (I’m not a professional at anything, so ignore these suggestions full-stop unless they make sense to you.)
Why Gyms Suck
A gym is where you pay your hard-earned savings to be in an environment filled with annoying fluorescent lights, pounding treadmills, clanking weights, skin infections, and a bunch of sweaty people mostly training with lousy form.
Save your money, the commute time, the environmental stress, and the bad influence of people who don’t know how to train safely and sustainably. You can get a great workout anywhere. If you need a gym to “motivate” you to exercise, you’re not going to last. Gyms make it harder, not easier, to fit exercise into your life. The motivation ultimately has to come from within to sustain. Gyms are a money-making rat trap.
The Best Gym Ever
You need exactly zero equipment to get in fantastic shape. I know many people who are in incredible condition, but the most flexible, nimble, and strong person I know is in his 50s. The only equipment he uses is a chinup bar. Granted he goes light years beyond what’s needed to nail that long list of exercise benefits, but I mention it just to point out that truly elite conditioning does not require weights.
Your body is the best gym ever devised. Gravity is the only resistance you need to get all the benefits. Bodyweight training is also the most sustainable form of exercise because it gives you the freedom to spontaneously train anytime, anywhere, at zero cost.
Training for Looks
Many people exercise because they want to look good naked. If you only care about training for appearances, you can look great and get a six pack without ever touching a piece of iron. (If you want a six pack, it’s mostly down to how you eat and getting plenty of sleep.)
No matter what you do, you’re not going to look “huge” without relying on drugs. Guys get a distorted view from steroid and HGH jacked actors and magazine models of what women find appealing. It’s b.s. If you care about training for looks, go for being lean, defined, and well-proportioned without seeming like you spend your days inflating yourself under a weight rack. It’s much more naturally attractive. (Don’t take my word for it, guys. Ask a sibling or friend.)
Powders, Bars, and Shakes
The most fit people I know — the people who go way, way beyond the “minimum effective dose” of exercise — don’t use powders, gels, protein bars, “fitness drinks,” or other food-like products. They just eat natural real food.
These products are also usually hyper-sweet (whether it’s artificial sweeteners or not) which throws your taste buds out of whack. You’re much better off eating nutritious real food. Steer clear of stuff engineered in labs, even if it’s posing as health food. Don’t waste your money.
Want to pay someone for personalized coaching, or an instructor-led class?
Looking to younger people for instruction is risky. If you’re young and resilient and work hard (like young trainers do), you can beat yourself into impressive physical condition. But often young trainers’ methodology for getting in “the best shape of your life” can be a path to serious injury or physical ruin later on. I’ve met many people who now regret the hardstyle boot camp training they used to do. I once met the founder of Crossfit, and his body was a limping train wreck. Nobody wants that. Hardstyle training is necessary for highly competitive or professional sports, but if you don’t make a living chasing a ball around, the risks of hardstyle training hard are not worth it unless you’re driven by reasons not related to health and longevity.
Instead, look for old-timers — specifically, people who have been training others for at least 15 (preferably 20+) years — and still look amazing. By amazing, I mean their overall energy — their look and feel — is inspiring. It means they’ve likely found a methodology that is effective, safe, and sustainable.
Avoid instructors (young or old) who rely on degrees and other pieces of paper to demonstrate their abilities instead of having an inspiring presence. It doesn’t matter if they’ve trained Olympic athletes or actors. Those people’s goals aren’t long-term focused. Most pro athletes literally limp into old age.
And if any trainer suggests doing HGH or other performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), don’t pass Go. Turn and run. Exercising to feel good and live long isn’t about forming expensive drug dependencies.
A Fool-Proof Way to Make Exercise a Habit
If you’ve already grooved ways to work out your body that feel good and don’t cause you pain, that’s awesome. Keep on keeping on.
But what if you’re not motivated to exercise at all? (I’ve been there, more than once.) It’s usually because we erect unnecessary barriers. We make exercise way harder and way more complicated than it needs to be. You don’t need gym memberships, classes, machines, piles of iron, videos, books, magazines, gym clothes, stop watches, or even sneakers. All those things are barriers to entry, and unless you’re training for seriously competitive sports (pro or college), or want to be a bodybuilder, all that stuff is completely unnecessary. You can have the physique of a model using just your body as your gym.
Exercise is a momentum game. The hard part is getting started. So if you’ve been stuck, here’s how to get unstuck right now:
Make the barrier to entry so insanely low that you literally can’t make an excuse not to exercise.
The 10-Second Workout
Ready for a workout? It will take 6-10 seconds, tops. You can do it every day of your life as long as you’re not in pain. (Never train through pain; there’s always another way to train without pain.)
Let’s do one pushup, right now, with flawless form.
- Position your hands on the ground so they are slightly wider than your shoulders, with the top of your palms levels with the top of your shoulders.
- Keep your feet together and your body straight as a board.
- Don’t sag your head, and don’t sag (or hike) your butt. Straight-as-a-board body at all times.
- On the way down, think smooth and controlled — should take about 3 seconds. The only moving body part should be your arms.
- Pause at the bottom for about a second, nose hovering just above the ground.
- Then on the way up, again smooth and controlled — should take another 2-3 seconds.
- Breath naturally the whole time. Don’t gasp, gulp air, or hold your breath.
How did it go? Was it too hard to do perfectly? No biggie. Millions of people can’t do a perfect pushup. Instead, follow the same steps but keep your knees together and on the ground the entire time.
If a knee pushup is too difficult to do perfectly, no problem. Stand a couple feet from a wall and do the pushup against it.
To add difficulty, you can lower the incline by using the edge of your bathroom or kitchen counter, or a bench, or a hand railing. Keep perfect form.
Doing one perfect pushup is better than ten lousy ones. Truly. Don’t give into the ego trap by going for reps. We’re not getting paid to do pushups; we’re trying to squeeze the most benefit with the least risk to our joints that we can. Compromising form is the path to injury.
Get another 10-second workout in tomorrow. Or sooner if the spirit moves you. Just get it in every day. Set a calendar, email, or post-it note reminder just in case. If you forget a day, don’t beat yourself up or try to make it up. Just get back on the horse and do whatever reminder adjustment you need to not forget again.
One trick for remembering is to pair the thing you’re trying to make a habit with something that’s already a habit. For example, you could pair doing pushups with getting in the the shower. After a couple weeks, you pretty much won’t be able to see a shower and not think of pushups.
After some number of days, you’ll want to do two pushups. Or you’ll do more than one 10-second workout during your day. I don’t know why; it just works that way. Developing the habit will naturally lead to more and more repetitions.
Don’t worry at all about goals or numbers. Just show up and be present in the motion, listening to how your body feels and checking for perfect form. Have a friend spot check your form. Or better yet, record yourself with your smart phone and check it yourself.
But come hell or high water, get that workout in, all 10 seconds worth, every day. If nothing else, it will add up to thousands of pushups over the next decade.
The biggest risk in your new workout program is that you’ll talk yourself out of doing it because you don’t believe it will make any difference. It will — just keep doing it. You’re planting the seed of good habit.
The 20-Second Workout
At some point, you might find yourself wanting to take another step. That’s a perfect time to start training your lower body.
Here’s where we up the ante from a 10 to a 20-second workout. How?
Do one perfect door squat, followed by one perfect pushup. Steps:
- Find an open door and grab the handle with both hands — one hand per handle.
- Step back so your arms are straight as you face the edge of the door. (It’ll be open about 45 degrees.)
- Position your feet shoulder width apart and pointing straight ahead so they’re parallel.
- Slowly, smoothly, with control, lower your body all the way down to a full squat — takes 3-4 seconds.
- Feel like you’re pulling yourself down to the floor with your feet.
- Use the door handle to spot yourself and keep your back straight and upright (not tilted forward).
- Once you reach the bottom of the squat, smoothly and with control press your way back up to a full stand.
- Use the door handle for assistance as needed, but keep your hands on it regardless the entire time.
- Feel the press-up through your entire foot, with a bit more emphasis on the back half of the foot.
- Breath naturally. Don’t gasp, gulp air, or hold your breath.
If a full squat is too hard or you feel any pain, start by going down only half-way.
Then smoothly transition right into your one pushup.
Like with the pushups, one squat will naturally lead to more. Don’t worry about rep goals or writing things down. And don’t rush the reps to get more in. Keep a slow, smooth, controlled pace. Some days you’ll do more reps; some days just one or two. No problem. Just make sure that you get 20 seconds in. Pay attention to the quality of the motion. Tune in and listen to how your body feels.
Why use the door handle? It lets you maintain perfect form regardless of your level of flexibility and joint mobility in your hips and ankles. (They will naturally improve over time anyway.)
There are 86,400 seconds in a day. Do the 20 seconds no matter what!
The One-Minute Workout
Once you’ve got your 20-second workout grooved, consider taking the next step by doing some general conditioning.
If you’re feeling up to it, try a one-minute workout. I warn you — it’ll blow almost 0.0007% of your day. 😉
After your squat and pushup, fill the rest of the minute with “jump roping” — but without the jump rope.
- Stand with your feet inside your shoulders (3 to 6 inches apart depending on your height).
- Lightly bounce back and forth from foot to foot, just barely leaving the ground, like you’re skipping rope.
- Deliberately try to be light on your feet and relaxed, like a boxer.
- Absorb the impact on the front half of your feet — there should be no thumping sound or feeling like you’re pounding the ground.
- Keep your shoulders relaxed (not raised).
- Hold your hands in a soft fist either at a 90 degree angle or up in a guard position — whatever feels comfortable.
- Throw a few light jabs. Or hold your arms almost straight by your sides, parallel to the floor. Play around with it, and do anything that comes naturally. Just remember to keep your shoulders relaxed.
Did you try it? If it hurt anywhere, there are a few alternatives. The first go-to is jumping jacks. If that doesn’t work, just march in place, raising each knee as high as it can comfortably go. Over time your tendons and ligaments will strengthen, and you’ll find yourself bouncing, light on your feet.
It’s of course not needed, but if you have music handy, turn it on. The 60 seconds will eventually turn into a whole song. That will lead to two… Again, forget about goals, tracking, heart rate monitors, training journals, blah blah blah. Don’t turn it into a job. Just stay tuned into how you feel and the quality of your movement. Exercise properly done is enjoyable and invigorating, not painful, draining, or like homework.
You might even spontaneously feel like doing a second or third 1-minute workout as breaks during your day. You can do them wearing anything. It can easily add up over the course of a year to thousands of pushups and squats and jumps.
After a few weeks doing one-minute workouts, you’ll find yourself feeling much lighter on your feet. If you’re seeking a little variety at that point, gradually trying to improvise the jump roping motion.
For example, if you’ve got music on, make the motion more dance-like. Not canned steps; just improvise. Stay light on your feet and feel like the music is moving through you. If you don’t know how to dance at all or think you look silly, I guarantee that if you do this in front of a mirror for a few weeks, your body will figure out how to dance. Your only real risk to having fun is your ego — a lesson this 12-year old figured out. The important thing is you’re moving your body in a light, coordinated way on a daily basis. It will pay huge dividends over time.
Stick with your perfect form 1-minute workout, rain or shine, and it will serve you well for a lifetime. You may work up to 20-40 minute workouts (longer than that has diminishing returns), but no matter, get your 1 minute in. Small, consistent, high quality efforts sustained over a period of years leads to transformation.
Progress to Circuits
Once momentum is on your side and you feel a natural desire to go beyond the 1-minute workout, progress to circuits. A circuit is just a handful of different exercise movements which you loop through several times. For example, you could do a round of 3 pushups, 5 squats, and 20 “jump ropes” five times.
Pace yourself so you don’t lose your breath. The transition between exercises is basically a micro-break where you get a few recovery breaths. Try to keep everything smooth, controlled and continuous. That way you’ll stay safe and get a lot of work done without inducing a panic reflex or exhausting yourself. Pacing circuits is an acquired skill, so keep paying attention and course correct as needed. The purpose isn’t to burn you into exhaustion; it’s to get a lot of continuous quality movement done in a short period of time. It’s a fine line.
When you want more variety, you can look up more bodyweight exercises on Youtube. Mix and match as you see fit.
A wonderful aspect of bodyweight training is most exercises have variations to make them more or less difficult. Just be sensitive to matching the right difficulty level. If any movement feels sketchy on any of your joints, don’t do it. Your tendons and ligaments will strengthen over time, and you can always come back in a few months and test again. And if a movement is so difficult that you’re out of breath in seconds, save it for later down the road. Your endurance will improve dramatically in just a few months.
After you’ve gotten a feel for putting together simple bodyweight circuits, you might try incorporating burpees.
The burpee (weird name, I know) is probably the most complete, all-in-one exercise there is. It has dozens of variations, which can go from very easy to extreme challenge.
Burpees work great in a circuit. They’re tiring, so they’re ideal for pairing with less challenging movements.
It’s especially important to do burpees smoothly and with control because of the constant elevation changes and putting weight on your wrists repeatedly. There are lots of examples on Youtube of people doing them at high speed with awful body control. They jump and land with a thud instead of lightly, and they slam their weight down to the ground, punishing their wrists, rather than transitioning their weight smoothly. Burpees can serve you for a lifetime, but if you develop poor form and bad habits chasing reps or difficulty, you’ll hurt yourself and never want to do them again. Don’t be that guy or gal.
What About Running?
For many people who want to start exercising, running is often the first thing that comes to mind.
If you want to take up running, just know that even though running seems simple, it’s easy to injure yourself. Most people’s running form is bio-mechanically poor. Get some quality instruction if you’re going to do it. I suggest Chi Running.
That said, if you’re going to start running and want to wing it, at least try to:
- Run lightly — literally, don’t make thumping noises.
- Keep your stride fairly short and comfortable. (Don’t feel like you’re reaching.)
- Keep your shoulders relaxed, not lifted.
- Keep your lower arms bent about 90 degrees and pointed (almost) straight ahead.
- Keep your hands very soft, like you’re barely holding a flower between your thumb and index finger.
- Land on your mid-foot or front-foot, whichever is more comfortable. One way to figure that out is to run barefoot on a hard surface and see what your body naturally prefers to minimize impact.
- Use your breath as your speedometer. Go slow enough so that you don’t gasp or gulp air. Slow way down or walk if you lose breath control. This is a skill. If you don’t lose your breath, you’ll never need to catch it. Your endurance and speed will improve naturally without forcing it.
You don’t need to go long to get great benefit. Even five minutes is a win. If you get excited about running, keep it shorter distances, easy, and enjoyable. Running marathons has no health benefits over moderate forms of exercise whatsoever, but does have serious risks.
An even better way to do a little running is to naturally incorporate it into a walk. Walking is glorious because it’s enjoyable and almost impossible to injure yourself. When you’re walking you can just ease into a micro-run — 10-60 seconds — whenever you feel like it. Do whatever feels good and easy. Don’t lose your breath. Think light, smooth, control — no huffing or pounding.
If you don’t have anybody to chat with on a walk, try getting a tiny mp3 player like this and listen to podcasts, books on tape, or music.
Whatever you do, when you’re moving your body, be kind to yourself. A lot of people when they work out look like they’re out to punish themselves. They either look miserable, pissed, or stressed out. The body can take loads of pain, and it can grind out incredible physical feats. But the people I’ve met in life who are real physical role models — amazing specimens of vitality, strength, and flexibility — have figured out how to enjoy exercise and make it playful. It should never be a source of pain or injury, much less a drag or an expensive form of misery.
Death to Diet Dogma
Eating is one of the great joys in life. But what should we eat? No health related question is loaded with more studies or conflicting conclusions foisted on us by academia and the popular press.
The question of how people should eat if they want to feel and look good is truly vexing. I’ve tried eating all sorts of ways over the years, from vegan to hardcore paleo. Here’s what I’ve taken from my own experiences and reading.
Diet dogma of any kind is a bad idea. It doesn’t matter how much sense it makes. A good story isn’t that hard to tell. It’s easy to read a book which gives a causal explanation using scientific terminology about why you need to eat a certain way. The problem is that just because the explanation may be clear and seem sensible, it could be completely untrue. And the ability to vet scientific explanations is a high bar. Ideally you’d be an expert in statistics, biochemistry, and physiology.
But when you go and look at what those experts say, they disagree too. Why?
Turns out it’s easy to deceive people with numbers. How to Lie with Statistics gives the roadmap. Then those statistics tricks are used to manipulate our consumer decisions. It’s why you can find conflicting expert advice in almost every aspect of diet and nutrition. The situation is so bad that you can do purposely flawed “research” with a pre-determined outcome and still get it published in scientific journals and covered by major news and health outlets.
Bottom line? Even though the scientific method is the best (albeit flawed) way to investigate questions about the material world, most published research studies are false. (This breakdown of the landmark study summarizes why most research is not reliable.)
So when it comes to figuring out what to eat and drink, there is shockingly little truly reliable information. Good science is really hard to do, especially when it involves human subjects, and researchers have conflicts of interest and career pressure to publish newsworthy studies.
But a lot of the problem is simply that humans are insanely complex. Everybody truly is different. I’m not just talking DNA, behavioral preferences, allergies, and the interplay of countless environmental factors. I’m also talking about the trillions of “critters” that live inside us.
What we call “our” body is made up of more cells that aren’t actually us than are — by an order of magnitude. That huge biome of life inside us varies widely from person to person and hugely affects our mood, as well as how we process and react to different foods. Gut health has become a hot topic and spawned a whole branch of gut science.
So Don’t Believe Anything?
Not saying that. But trusting every health article we see which starts, “A new study shows…” isn’t a great idea.
That said, there are a couple health-related conclusions drawn from mountains of research which are highly reliable and essentially uncontested.
- “Getting plastered” is horrible for you, in lots of different ways.
- Junk food and sodas are highly addictive by design, likely more so than cocaine. Junk food trashes your body.
- Smoking cigarettes is a time-honored method for spending lots of money to smell bad and hurt yourself.
That’s about it. Beyond that the experts who do this stuff for a living start arguing. Some may want more nuance, but if people just did these three things, untold misery and millions of health crises would be avoided every year. And yet, there are good reasons people do these things anyway.
For those who are dissatisfied with the way they currently feel, pounding booze is guaranteed to change that. There’s a lot to be said for certainty.
Cigarettes have been successfully marketed the world over as the coolest way to say idontgiveafuck. In several countries bureaucrats force color photos of cancerous tumors be stuck on every pack sold. Seems to only encourage people.
Finally, let’s admit it: Junk food is sort of amazing. It’s highly addictive, fun to eat, cleverly packaged, has no prep time, is easy to carry around, has a long shelf life, and is inexpensive compared real food. (Thanks, regime subsidies.)
To top it all off, junk food is sensationally marketed. Investing billions to market brands like Oreos, Doritos, and Pepsi makes sense because they’re unique products. In 2014 people spent $2.5 billion on Oreos alone. Branded junk food products get paid placements in movies and TV shows, and they’re marketed by celebrities. Who is going to pay for eggs, carrots, or grass-fed beef to be eaten on the big screen?
Eating natural food — meaning, stuff not designed by food scientists in labs and manufactured in a factory — is what people who live long, healthy lives do. I’ve met several centenarians, and I always ask what they eat. None has ever said, “Oh, I was paleo before paleo was paleo.” Or, “Wheat grass and kale juice added 30 years to my life.” They just eat real food, drink little or no alcohol, don’t smoke (though some used to), are friendly, and are not obese — pretty much the lifestyle of the Blue Zones.
Speaking of Obese… What If You Want to Lose Weight?
There are thousands of different diet books, videos, and programs. People spend billions of them.
Virtually all of them work. You can even lose a bunch of weight eating only donuts and Twinkies.
But in the long run, none of them work. Really, none. That’s because diets aren’t sustainable. To “go on a diet” by definition means you intend to go off it at some point. And whatever eating behaviors made you overweight in the first place is what you’ll likely revert to.
Sleep Your Way to Lean
If you want to no longer be obese, it all starts with sleep. Sleep, exercise, and food are all interrelated. If you’re underslept, you’ll crave sugary foods, and those sugary foods will make your body want to overeat. When you overeat and are tired, the last thing you want to do is exercise. Vicious circle.
Once your sleep is dialed in at 8-9 hours per night, everything gets easier. Doing exercise in a moderate, energizing way as discussed above — rather than “burnout” workouts — won’t make your appetite ravenous. In fact it will make you crave healthy real foods.
Listen After Meals
As far as what foods to eat, pay attention to how you feel after meals. Figure out what foods leave you feeling alert rather than tired or worn down. You might have allergies or sensitivities that you’ll come to figure out. Much of being overweight is being systemically inflamed, so cutting out foods that irritate you will help.
Many people have a sensitivity (or outright allergy) to gluten, but as mentioned earlier it’s not clear if the culprit is actually the Roundup soaking, “enrichment” additives, or alteration of wheat’s biochemical structure. You might feel just fine eating non-GMO, non-enriched, organic flour. The only way to know is to experiment on yourself and pay attention over time. Same thing with dairy products.
I also suggest making roughly half of what you eat vegetables. Go for a variety of colors every day, and make them taste interesting and varied with olive oil, grass-fed butter, herbs, spices, or a touch of sea salt. I suspect a lot of food cravings are an artifact of nutrient deficiencies. Vegetables are filling and nutrient dense, and they give you thousands of phytonutrients which vitamins don’t.
While juicing vegetables is popular these days, I’d avoid making it a daily habit. Eating them is more filling, and juicing bypasses your body’s instincts about how much to eat, something that doesn’t happen with whole food. For example, you can drink a lot more kale and spinach than you’d ever tolerate in food form. The oxalates and goitrogens in them should be limited by your taste for eating the food in its natural form.
What to Drink?
If you want to lose weight, I suggest not drinking calories. Drinking calories doesn’t trigger the satiety hormones which make you feel full. Real foods do.
Just sticking to water is sort of boring, though. Here are some other options I like: coffee, black tea, green tea, white tea, oolong tea, rooibos, ginger tea, and mint tea. They’re all good (to my taste at least) both hot and iced. I limit coffee to one cup a day; pay attention to make sure you’re not giving yourself caffeine jitters.
Here’s a trick for getting variation out of water. Whether still or carbonated, water is more interesting with a few drops of cocktail bitters in it. I recommend the organic bitters sample packs from Scrappy’s. Both original and exotic are excellent. (It’s a truly negligible amount, but if you have an all-out prohibition against alcohol, bitters are off-limits.)
Another trick with water is to naturally flavor it. Take a pitcher and add some fresh mint, rosemary, cucumber slices, or halved strawberries. (I don’t use lemon because the acidity erodes the enamel on your teeth.)
Lean Out with IF
If you’re sleeping well, exercising every day (even if only for a few minutes), and eating real foods, but aren’t any leaner after a few weeks, I suggest trying intermittent fasting (IF). There are several ways to do IF. Some methods might match your daily routine better than others.
In my experience, IF works fantastically. On top of leaning you out, you save money and time, and I find, are more clear-minded. If you’re into science-based reasons to try fasting, here are some provided by a nutritionist friend in a handy chart:
If you’ve never done any fasting (other than that stretch we call sleep), it can seem intimidating, but it’s really not at all. Fasting is, however, powerful “medicine.” People react differently to fasts. Some feel amazing and get a huge burst of energy; some feel tired and worn out; others barely notice. So to be safe, don’t start experimenting with fasting unless you’re in a relaxed situation without a lot of demands on your time (like a weekend).
Here’s a brain-dead way to do your first fast. On a day where you can chill, pick a meal to skip. If that sounds difficult, here’s the key: Distract yourself. Make a cup of tea and watch an action movie or a couple TV shows. Or play a video game. Don’t read a book. Do something that actively engages your attention with minimal effort. You’ll breeze right through the fast. (Some people don’t drink anything but water during a fast, but I’ve never seen evidence that tea ruins the beneficial effects of a fast.)
If it seems hard at first, I promise it gets easier, even to the point where you can casually skip food for 24 hours and have it be no big deal at all. Sometimes I’ll go out to dinner with friends and just decide I won’t eat until dinner the next day. It actually helps me savor my food more. As a bonus, food coming off of a fast tastes amazing. After a 36 or 48 hour fast, break it with one of your favorite foods. It’ll blow your taste buds away.
Some general guidelines:
- If you have a medical condition, check with your doctor before experimenting with fasting.
- Stay hydrated, but there’s no need to deluge yourself with water. I drink herbal tea too, but some people just do water.
- On longer fasts, you might feel cold more easily. That’s normal. Just put on a sweater, or take a warm bath or shower.
- If you’re coming off a fast longer than 24 hours, break it with a modest meal. In other words, don’t slam yourself with a giant feast after not eating for a couple days. It can give you a belly ache.
- Fasting for more than a couple days, especially if you’re not experienced at fasting, should be done under medical supervision, or at least with somebody else regularly checking in on you.
- Don’t do any strenuous exercise during a fast, even if you’re feeling really energetic. Fasting is a rest and reparation process. Walking and light activity are good, as is getting 15-30 minutes of sunshine.
- Fasting for a day or two won’t crash your metabolism or make you lose muscle. That’s a myth. On the contrary, 24-48 hour fasts seem to up metabolic rate (Mansell PI, et al, and Zauner C, et al). Short term fasts make you more resilient, which may be why even chemo patients seem to benefit from them.
- You might find yourself feeling a little wired, and wake up earlier than normal. That’s normal. Your senses heighten when you’re in a fasted state.
- If you’re a “sugar burner” — in other words, if you’re used to a high sugar diet — fasting will break your sugar cravings. But you initially might feel “hangry,” so just be aware of that.
- If you’re new to fasting, let people around you know what you’re doing so they don’t inadvertently make the fast harder by offering you food or asking you out to eat.
Fasting is really powerful and brings a ton of health benefits. But it’s best used intermittently. Don’t overdo it. In my own experience, a 24 hour fast once per week, or a 2-day fast once per month, will have a major impact over time on how you look and feel.
What About Vitamins?
I used to take all sorts of supplements. I’ve largely stopped because I’ve found that they distort my listening ability to instinctively eat the right foods. Taking vitamins tends to fool you into thinking you’ve gotten the nutrients you need from a pill, so you don’t have to pay as much attention to food. I think this leads people to eat more carelessly. Besides, vitamin pills are nowhere near as well absorbed and utilized by the body.
Also, vitamin manufacturers truly don’t know what the “correct” dosage should be for each vitamin or mineral. Notice the huge variance in dosage levels across the thousands of products. And the manufacturers of these pills have no idea what you’re eating in the first place. This means it’s easy to inadvertently overdo it, and megadosing vitamins can throw various systems in your body out of whack, as well as inhibit the absorption of other nutrients.
For example, taking calcium without adding sufficient levels of vitamin D increases your risk of heart attack. Too much selenium can make your hair fall out and put you in a bad mood. Vitamin E taken as pills can increase cancer risk. Fish oil supplements require you to be obsessive about quality so you don’t damage yourself eating rancid, oxidized oil. And even if you shell out for high quality product, the nutrient absorption is a tiny fraction of what you get when you eat fish.
Many vitamins are literally junk food. The popular Viactiv supplement contains corn syrup, hydrogenated oil, and all sorts of other garbage. This kids vitamin has FD&C Blue #1, FD&C Red #40, sugar, and other crap. Thanks Mom!
All this said, I haven’t gone completely cold turkey on supplements. If I miss a couple days of getting 15-30 minutes of sunshine, I’ll usually take vitamin K2 and a few thousand IU of D3 with food. Vitamin D is hard to get from fresh food, and not getting enough can really mess you up. If you don’t get daily sun exposure due to lifestyle or geography, get your vitamin D level tested. There’s no perfect number, but doctors I’ve asked say the level should be between 35-60.
Vitamins are in isolated form and don’t have the enzymes, minerals, and cofactors to be fully absorbed by your body, so they’re an unreliable nutritional crutch anyway. (It’s not like supercenetenarians have lived their lives hopped up on vitamins.)
Plus not taking a bunch of pills every day saves considerable time, hassle, and thousands of dollars over the years.
There’s also a serious issue concerning the questionable purity of supplements. Many contain unlisted contaminants and don’t contain the nutrients or dosages they claim. I suggest limiting any purchases to products labeled with a third party lab certification from USP, NSF International, or Consumer Lab.
Since we’re all different, you might have a nutrient deficiency which absolutely requires supplementation to fix. If you think that’s the case, get a full blood panel and advice from a professional you trust. But the notion of reflexively taking a bunch of vitamins because we’ve been told it’s the healthy thing to do is looking like an expensive (and potentially harmful) heap of baloney.
What About the Money?
Most Americans don’t consider the possibilities abroad. I’ve traveled to several countries where you can live decently on $20-30 per day. If you can find either formal or informal work (fluent English is often a big asset), you can save very aggressively.
You also can do “extreme savings” if you’re determined. As an experiment I ate nothing but potatoes sprinkled with salt and drank just tea and water for a week. I felt great. (Turns out you can do it for months.) It’s hardly exciting, but you can eat till you’re stuffed, and you’ll lose weight with no hunger pangs. Meanwhile, your food bill will be about $2 per day. Hardcore, but it works.
Of course one way to position yourself to save more is to earn more. Doing so is more of a mindset than any one particular strategy. And I have no empirical proof for this, but it’s been my experience that people who are more likable tend to earn more money. Everybody can be more likeable, and you’ll probably enjoy life more if you figure out how, so why not give it try.
Lastly, a lot of people sink deep into debt buying stuff they don’t really need. I used to own a lot of things. Then one day I realized it’s a pain in the neck to own a lot of things. So I got rid of them. There’s an existential feeling of lightness to not owning a bunch of stuff. Turns out people write great stuff about this. There’s even a name for it — minimalist living.
Spending money on memorable experiences, travel, or instruction to make myself more knowledgeable or skilled is, to me, far more rewarding because it makes you a more interesting person. I’ve noticed over the years that a lot of people I’ve met who have mountains of stuff are sort of boring. I don’t know if it’s because they have to spend so much bandwidth tending to their stuff and looking for the next thing to buy, or perhaps because stuff can be used as a crutch if you feel somehow insufficient. In any case, the most interesting people I know don’t own much. Better to add to yourself than your shelves.
The Bankster Racket
Moving on from debt, what about savings? People are trained since childhood to save by putting money in a bank. Let’s think through that.
A bank deposit is, in actuality, a loan. Most people don’t think of it this way, but the bank doesn’t hold onto your money for safe-keeping in a giant vault. No, it turns around and loans your money at interest, while paying you almost nothing for the privilege.
Bank “customers” ultimately are just unsecured creditors of the bank.
It’s a total racket.
And it’s only getting worse. In Europe and Japan, people are actually being charged to loan their money to banks. It’s called negative interest rate policy (NIRP). And the American regime’s central bank says it might impose NIRP too.
Didn’t banks learn their lesson from the last meltdown? They sure did. The lesson is that you’ll pay to bail them out. For every dollar you lend the bank, it keeps six cents lying around in case you want your money back. Yep, six measly cents. Why? Because the more of your money they lend, the more they make. If they get squeezed in a crisis, you’re the one who will pay, so why not go pedal to the metal?
Banks are a roach motel for your savings and an instrument of regime control. So why bother? Thankfully, these days there are are lots of ways to safe-keep money without fees and lockdown risks, as well as make instant payments to others anywhere in the world.
Minimizing or eliminating your reliance on the banking racket is probably the most effective way to take control of your financial future. Plus it will tell banksters in the only way they’ll actually hear where to shove their taxpayer bonuses. If this seems appealing but intimidating, there are services that make it really easy to dip your toe in non-bankster waters.
Savings Is Investment
No matter how you save — government cash, precious metals, real estate, bitcoin, whatever — it’s an investment. No asset maintains a fixed market value against other assets. The price of everything changes over time, including money itself.
For example, right now hundreds of government currencies and private currencies are being exchanged in a competitive bidding process. Billions of individuals’ ever-changing subjective valuations of these currencies cause their exchange rates to be in constant flux. There is no magical value ruler we can use to measure them.
As comforting as it would be to believe, there’s no such thing as inherent value, objective value, or intrinsic value.
Value is subjective. This hugely important economic principle is widely misunderstood, and it leads people to make poor investing decisions.
Value is always and only assigned by individuals. It’s not an atomic property. And, critically, price is not value.
A price is simply a proposed exchange ratio — some of this for some of that. Price can’t be value, because every time you buy something, you’re valuing whatever you’re buying more than what you’re paying, and the seller is doing the exact opposite! Every purchase is a disagreement about value. That disagreement is what facilitates every economic exchange.
In 2015 a painting by Mark Rothko titled No. 10 was purchased for $82 million USD. It doesn’t mean the value of the painting was (or is) $82 million. It only means that one person at a given time was willing to exchange $82 million for the painting. The value of the painting to the buyer may have been immeasurably higher than what he or she paid. It may be radically lower today.
It’s all a bit tough to grasp since there’s no such thing as a trusty value ruler, where an inch will remain an inch today, tomorrow, and fifty years from now.
Scarcity tends to influence people’s perception of value. (If a warehouse of 5,000 more Rothko paintings were discovered today, it would no doubt influence many people’s value judgments about his work.)
It’s important to always remember, especially as an investor: You have to determine for yourself the value of anything that you intend to be your savings. Don’t let the price tail wag the value dog.
Dealing with the subjectivity of value is tricky enough. But the bankster complex has made saving and investing seem like rocket science.
“Investment professionals” have concocted an entire dictionary of techno-jargon to confuse and intimidate you into giving them your savings. You made the money, but you can’t possibly invest it. Gotta leave that to the pros!
A racket says what?
To me it makes sense to keep your savings in things of utility and value to you which a central bank bureaucrat can’t make 100,000,000,000 more of by punching a computer key.
What I’m saying is own things you really understand and preferably enjoy owning or using. It could be land, gold, silver, free market money, rare collectible items, artwork, liquor… Please tell me more!
Of course all those examples require self-education — what doesn’t? — but you’ll end up with assets you understand that are truly under your control, instead of at the mercy of a bunch of rent-seekers.
What do I mean by understand? If you can authoritatively teach somebody about it and answer their questions, you understand it.
There are lots of possibilities, but saving in things you find intriguing will naturally make you geek out and have fun educating yourself. That’s how you’ll protect yourself in the long run and build real wealth, instead of paying somebody to make decisions for you and hoping for the best.
Nobody will care about your savings as much as you, so don’t get hustled into believing otherwise.
I’m a fan of dollar-cost averaging when possible. Dollar-cost averaging means buying something you want to own in chunks over time. For example, say you want to buy $5,000 in silver and $5,000 in bitcoin. Don’t buy them in one shot. Do it over time, like $1,000 every couple weeks, for example. It ensures that you won’t get unlucky and buy right before a sudden price dip.
Diversification makes sense to me too — in other words not having all your eggs in one savings basket. Any market can wipe out and take a long time, even years, to come back. Having your savings spread across two, three, or four assets you understand and enjoy will let you sleep soundly even when prices are volatile.
The Stock Market
What about the stock market? After all, ownership in a productive enterprise is in principle a great idea. But often theory and practice don’t line up.
Today’s stock market is a racket. (Follow the author’s advice — ignore his sales pitch.)
Due to the legal and accounting regulations governing the stock market, there are incentives for the management of companies to act counter to the long-term interests of investors. They can win big while you lose.
The stock and bond rackets make tons of money for people in on them. But you (probably) aren’t in on them, and neither is any newsletter writer, day-trading instructor, or consumer-level broker telling you things you want to hear to get their hands on your savings.
“But the guy who is pitching me…his returns are so high!” Doesn’t mean a thing. Out of a million roulette players, a bunch are statistically guaranteed to have an amazing “track record” by virtue of sheer luck. If you’re not a bona fide expert, you really can’t distinguish between enduring skill and luck (or outright fraud).
Besides, what personal joy or satisfaction do you get owning a mutual fund? Please.
If you stick with stuff you understand and enjoy, you’ll likely sleep more soundly and outperform the masses stuck in the capital markets casino. Besides, stocks and bonds are just a speculative abstraction to most people, which makes them panic when prices drop. Leave the casino racket to the professional racketeers.
Master Life’s Most Useful Skill
Ever watch a child try to convince a parent to buy them some junk food? It’s often an entertaining negotiation, up until their “moves” run out and the blunt force trauma method known as whining is employed.
As individuals, we all want stuff. Throughout our lives we want different things, in different amounts, at different times, for different reasons.
How do you get what you want in life?
Well, persuasion is the peaceful way. The other way is compulsion. Since the vast majority of us don’t want to threaten or commit violence, or think of ourselves as violent people, we rely on persuasion.
If you’re a peaceful person who would prefer to get what you desire in life, developing the skill of persuasion will maximize your chances.
Persuasion is a skill that we intuitively try to develop as we mature, but it isn’t taught (as far as I know) in grade school, high school, or college (outside of some psychology departments). On the other hand if you pay up for business school, you’ll receive formal training in persuasion. Figures.
Meanwhile, a search on Youtube for “convince parents” yields over 130,000 videos. It’s kids teaching other kids how to persuade their parents to get them a pet, allow them to dye their hair, see R-rated movies, play violent video games, get their ears pierced, have a sleepover party… Whatever kids might want from their parents, they’re crowdsourcing intel about how to get it.
If somebody is able to learn long division, they should be learning about persuasion too. Parents might balk, but think about it. Having your kids converse with you persuasively instead of defaulting to whining, pouting, or throwing temper tantrums would make life more pleasant for all. And your kids will be developing the critical skill needed to secure what they want later in life.
Persuasion Skills for a Fairer World
Desire is a universal human condition. Since we don’t live as hermits, it’s in all our interests to be skilled in persuasion. Life isn’t fair, but persuasion skills make life a more level playing field — more of a meritocracy — if we’re all consciously aware of them.
Politicians and marketers are exceptionally skilled persuaders. They have the techniques which influence our decision making down cold, and they use them relentlessly. That’s the most pressing reason I can think of for everyone else to get up to speed too.
Persuasion skills improve people’s b.s. detectors. It not only means you won’t get sold as easily on stuff you don’t really want or need. It also means fewer victims of rackets. Mastering persuasion skills makes life harder for sociopaths who seek to manipulate and victimize others. And on the positive side, it means good people get their needs met more often. Honest persuasion is about communicating benefits to others as much as it is about having your own interests be met.
Researchers have made an in-depth study of persuasion and shared their findings with the world. A leader in this field is a professor named Robert Cialdini.
Cialdini and others have done studies for decades demonstrating that we as individuals are far more subject to influence than we think. Most people believe they are basically independent thinkers who make rational decisions based on their own personal values and goals.
Per Mark Twain, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
The truth is that we’re easily and often led around by our noses, and we largely don’t recognize when it’s happening. This is especially true if we’re unaware that persuasion is a formal discipline with specific techniques which are studied and practiced by people.
So, the skill of persuasion may or may not be used for nefarious purposes, but there it is nonetheless. Ignore at your own peril. People who are out to hustle and victimize you are most aware of these persuasion techniques.
People who drop a couple hundred grand on Standford Business School (where Cialdini taught) are learning the skill of persuasion right now. That’s because it’s critical to business success. This stuff works. Thankfully, we don’t need to pay six-figure tuitions to become expert persuaders.
The Six Principles
Cialdini’s research identified six key principles of influence. He published them in his seminal classic Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. Want more of whatever you desire in life? Get it. Learn it. Live it.
If this stuff is new to you, you’ll recognize the substance of the principles from your own life experience. They aren’t hard to understand. But the trick is to recognize when they’re being used and to effortlessly and skillfully use them yourself. Being vaguely familiar with them isn’t enough. Persuasion is a practice.
Here’s a brief overview of the principles.
There’s far more depth and subtlety to using these principles than the video suggests, so don’t cheat yourself out of following up, learning more, and putting these skills to work. You’ll know you have the principles down when you can effortlessly teach them to somebody else.
Two of the persuasion principles deserve special mention: Liking and Authority.
The Magical Principle of Liking
The most important persuasion skill is Liking. No matter what it is you want in life, if getting it involves consent or help from someone else, you’re far more likely to get a yes if they like you. Conversely, realize that when others want something from you — money, approval, help, whatever — your consent is profoundly influenced not by logical argumentation, but by how much you like them.
People tend to think of themselves as reason-driven beings. Certainly we use reason as a problem-solving tool, but we’re ultimately emotion-driven beings. Many of our closely held convictions have no logical proof. The reason like also means to match is because we tend to like people who are somehow similar to us. When we believe somebody is like us in fundamental ways, we feel safer, more secure, more connected. It’s our tribal nature.
That likeness, whether manifested in our physical traits, our language and accents, our cultural and aesthetic preferences, or our personal beliefs about the world is a powerful force of attraction. It’s why people bond over what they have in common rather than what they disagree about. Disagreements are tolerated rather than the basis of liking someone.
When was the last time somebody you really found obnoxious managed to convince you to adopt a belief he or she was advocating? If you’ve ever converted to a religion, was it because you heard somebody you found incredibly annoying and said, “This feels right. I believe!”
People who are stone-cold masters at Liking have what’s been coined a reality distortion field (RDF). It means even if you detest somebody, for example a politician, when you meet him in person you can’t help but like him. The effect is almost magical. (I was doubtful until I experienced RDF for myself.)
Of course a lot of factors affect whether others like you. How you look, how you dress, your body language, eye contact, the way you speak. These are all outward signals — “surface stuff” — which you can read countless articles and books about if you care to increase your abilities to influence.
Step Off the Judgey Train
In my own experience, the biggest factor in Liking isn’t the surface stuff. It’s openness.
Open people are interested in others. People generally love talking about themselves, and being genuinely curious about someone is the most clear demonstration of openness.
The flip side of openness is being judgemental. Even when the assessments are accurate, judgey people are hard to like. People hate hate hate feeling judged. Obvious, but look around. People can’t even choose a hairstyle without being judged.
Because we tend to be our own harshest critics, more judging is pretty much the last thing we want in life. Our judgey radars are sensitive; we can pick up the judgey vibe from a single glance of the eyes or intonation of the voice.
Liking is a feeling, and being judgey triggers people’s feelings of insecurity or defensiveness. Even if you’re actually helping someone, if you do it in a way that triggers their insecurity, the person will dislike rather than appreciate you. Hence common expressions such as, “There’s no helping some people,” and “No good deed goes unpunished.”
Having a sense of openness naturally releases the judgey impulse.
The best way I’ve found to do this is to remind myself, every day, that we all have struggles, traumas, and battles that nobody else knows anything about. Most scars aren’t visible. We largely have no clue what others have been through in life, what they believe, or why they do what they do.
I’ve even come to appreciate that I mostly don’t even know why I do what I do, though after I do it my brain can spin all sorts of reasons and rationalizations.
The truth is we mostly feel our way through this world. It’s why even the biggest events in our lives, like “falling” in love or religious faith, are not logic-driven acts.
It’s so simple. We really just want to feel good, so we gravitate to what, and who, makes us feel good. When we’re made to feel wrong or judged, we resent and dislike.
If we embrace uncertainty — if we own up to the fact that we mostly have no clue what drives others — then it makes judging feel ridiculous. It’s easier to be kind and have compassion for the complexity and pain life dumps in our lap one way or another.
Besides, being kind feels good.
Ads Make It Harder Not to Be Judgey
I love how markets spontaneously meet our needs in new and amazing ways. But it’s helpful to remember that most product marketing these days is premised on assumed deficiency. You or your life are made to feel lacking, and it just so happens the product on offer can fix it.
The more self-conscious we get by the constant suggestions that our lives are lacking, the more sensitive we become. It makes it harder to not want to be judgey, if only to distract us from our own lives. And our heightened sensitivity makes us more quick to write off and reject others. It’s a vicious circle.
In any case, no matter how awesome a person you are, being liked isn’t ultimately up to you, so don’t stress when somebody doesn’t like you, or you’ll just sabotage yourself. Be open and kind and let the haters hate. They’re just trying to feel good too.
Why Liking Matters So Much
If you want to persuade somebody to embrace your view or opinion about something, no matter how sound your reasoning is, if the person dislikes you, your efforts are likely to fail. Not only that, the person will probably cling to their current views or position more tightly.
But there’s something else about liking, something that gives cover to the most clever confidence artists and silver-tongued sociopaths: If we like somebody enough, we’ll forgive or rationalize away almost any predatory act. The bigger the evil, the more we’ll distort reality to make it OK. It’s one of the many reasons arguing with people about politics is a total waste of time. You can point out any hypocrisy, lie, or atrocity, and if the person likes the perpetrator, it will be met with, “But he means well,” “Nobody’s perfect,” or “It was a really hard situation.”
There are always reasons which can be summoned to defend any behavior. So here’s the take-home for all non-sociopaths: If people really like you, they’ll try to part the ocean for you, even if you’ve poisoned it. The smartest bad guys in the world already know this, so everyone else would be well-served by keeping this phenomenon in mind.
To protect ourselves against Likeability manipulation, Cialdini tells us to ask ourselves if we’ve come to like someone unusually strongly in a short time frame. If so, it could be due to some form of manipulation. I think just being aware of the incredible influence of Likability can be enough to make better decisions, especially when it involves liking people we don’t actually know (celebrities and politicians).
Scary Power: The Authority Principle
The persuasion power of Authority is deadly in the wrong hands. People will repeatedly violate their own moral standards of right and wrong if they believe they’re being directed by a legitimate authority.
Sound nuts? If only it were. Understanding the incredible power of the Authority principle is the result of groundbreaking research by Stanley Milgram. Professor Milgram demonstrated that most people are willing to subjugate their own morality and torture and kill innocent people if an authority figure tells them to.
Power-seeking sociopaths are totally dialed into this phenomenon. People who derive pleasure from extorting, hurting, and killing others can and do use the Authority principle to commit and get others to commit horrific acts of evil.
The Authority principle is how normally nonviolent people can plunder, poison, cage, and kill innocent people. The scary truth is most of succumb to acting like predators as long as we can say, “Just doing my job,” “I don’t make the rules,” or, “I’m just following orders.”
The Authority principle is a weapon of mass destruction in the hands of sociopaths. But being puppets doesn’t have to be our destiny. Being aware of the Authority principle may be enough to dispel much of its power. After all, 35 percent of the subjects in Milgram’s study were aware enough to reject his orders.
Sometimes people show this awareness even in the face of mortal danger. When countless Americans were getting on airplanes to invade Vietnam and kill masses of strangers because politicians told them they “had no choice,” Muhammad Ali rejected the draft. He was put in a cage and stripped of his boxing title, but he demonstrated the point: Nobody has to be a murder puppet. We have moral agency, no matter who is wielding uniforms, badges, or guns.
There is always a choice. Even if you know it will cost you your life.
Most people aren’t willing to follow their conscience despite the threat of imprisonment or death, so awareness is probably insufficient to prevent war. This means awareness of the Authority principle is all the more reason to embrace decentralization. The more centralized power is, the more the Authority principle can be wielded to cause mass suffering and destruction.
Centralization and the Authority principle are a sociopath’s best friends.
The Wolves Among Us
The Authority principle and persuasion in general are truly frightful weapons in the wrong hands.
Is persuasion just another word for manipulation? No. Manipulation involves a willingness to resort to deception or underhanded tactics.
But persuasion doesn’t require dishonesty or fraud. That said, people who are master manipulators employ the principles of persuasion to make their lies and deceit more believable. Confidence artists are effective at working their marks because they are master persuaders.
Most of us are raised being told, “Deep down everyone is good.” This form of wishful thinking later becomes a source of existential confusion as children grow up in a culture which in many ways institutionalizes violence and features ruthless predators on the news, TV shows, movies, and video games.
What’s going on here? Why do we live in a culture filled with predatory violence if everyone is basically good? Like with most things, the truth is nuanced.
Consider this warning from a great TV show: “There are wolves and sheep in this world. Figure out which one you’re gonna be.”
The line is said by a con artist who has just masterfully worked his mark. His admonition points to an enduring challenge for humanity.
Often used interchangeably with psychopaths, sociopathy is widely misunderstood. It doesn’t refer to a person’s outward appearance. Some sociopaths are identifiable (think crazyeyes), but others are extraordinarily charismatic and well-spoken. You’ll never see them coming.
Sociopathy is the literal inability to empathize with others’ suffering. The behavior of sociopaths is unconstrained by truth or morality, because they don’t feel guilt or remorse. Sociopaths can inflict pain on people with the same detachment and curiosity that a child shows when burning ants with a magnifying glass. That doesn’t mean they all seek to commit acts of violence. But for power-seeking sociopaths who do, there’s no limit to the damage they’re willing to inflict. Millions dead wouldn’t make them lose a wink of sleep.
So next time you see or read about some inhumanly repugnant act of violence and ask yourself, “How could anyone do that?”… This is how.
Sociopaths can be mentally slow, or sharp as a razor. Smart sociopaths realize early on that they’re different from everyone else. They learn to adapt in order to not wear their sociopathy on their sleeve. They learn how to respond to social cues in a way most favorable to them, rather than feeling a genuine emotional response. They can cry on demand if it is advantageous, or show convincing compassion and empathy. They learn what is considered right and wrong behavior so that they can avoid punishment and gain trust.
Sociopathic confidence artists can make profoundly moving appeals to emotion and conscience. That might seem farfetched, unless we remember there’s an entire profession devoted to making us laugh, cry, cheer, mourn, and otherwise deeply feel: Acting. While some people are paid to do it in front of a camera to entertain us, sociopaths do it to achieve their own ends, whatever they may be. That means they will literally say or do anything if they think it will get them what they want.
Sociopaths don’t want to be caught and punished for wrongdoing any more than the rest of us. The smarter and more devious ones seek out positions of power, privilege, and legal exemption which largely shield themselves from punishment for predatory behavior, particularly if it’s done systematically on a large scale.
How Many Are There?
According to Harvard researcher and psychologist Martha Stout in her book The Sociopath Next Door, up to 4 percent of the population is sociopathic. That means there are currently just under 300 million sociopaths given the current world population of 7.4 billion people. It doesn’t mean all 300 million are going to be killers, but it does mean they have the capacity to cheat, lie, steal, or kill without emotional hesitation or remorse.
While we can hope that 300 million number is too high, even if it’s really half of that, the fact is we deal with sociopaths in our daily lives.
The Projection Bias Invites Disaster
Why do I bring this topic up at all? Because not understanding the phenomenon of sociopathy is a dangerous liability to non-sociopaths. Non-sociopaths tend to project their conscience onto others. I’m not aware of a term for this, so until somebody fills me in, I’ll call this tendency projection bias.
Projecting your conscience onto people with no conscience can lead to disastrous outcomes. Projection bias is what con artists and violent predators exploit. When faced with important decisions, don’t reflexively substitute what is possible with what is possible for you. This especially goes for situations where you or loved ones would be put in a position of financial vulnerability or physical isolation.
We trust others all the time, of course, but that trust typically happens with social guard rails in the form of witnesses, digital and paper records, reputation, and natural aversion to retaliation or punishment. This wards off most predatory behavior in our day to day lives as long as we use good judgment.
But it doesn’t solve the problem of sociopaths rising to control highly centralized institutions. Whatever nightmare despots, dictators, tyrants, or “leaders” you can think of, past or present, the answer to them all is the same. Decentralization. We can’t change human nature, but we can radically reduce the amount of damage that predatory sociopaths can do by embracing decentralization. As long as there are Tolkeinesque rings of godlike power to be worn, the most artful and determined sociopaths will find a way to slip them on.
The Best Technology for Feeling Good Is Free
Most Americans aren’t feeling very good. An astounding 70 percent are on prescription meds. That doesn’t count medicating with non-prescription drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, and sugar (junk food).
Clearly people consume all this stuff because we believe it will make us feel better. And it works! To some degree at least, or people wouldn’t keep doing it.
One problem is that all these things cost billions of dollars, and most of us don’t have any savings. Drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes are a fortune for people with no savings. Ironically, stressing over money tends to make people want to medicate with the very things they can’t afford.
The bigger problem is that most of these things have seriously adverse side effects for our health. They also create deep chemical and behavioral dependencies.
Still, they might be worth it, especially if there were no other options. Living in pain, whether internal or external, is awful.
But it turns out there’s another way to deal away with stress, anxiety, and pain, and most people haven’t given it a proper try.
If you’ve tried it and it didn’t work, it just means one style of meditation among hundreds didn’t work for you. That’s like writing off all of music because you didn’t like the first song you heard.
People assume a lot of things about meditation which just aren’t so. Here are a few of the more common misconceptions.
- Meditation is a religious practice. Many styles of meditation come from religious traditions. Many don’t. Meditation does not need to be religious at all. And many styles which originate from religious practices can be done in a secular way. For example, mindfulness meditation has Buddhist origins, but in no way requires one to become a Buddhist to reap the benefits. If thinking of meditation as a spiritual practice helps you to do it, great. If it doesn’t, no matter. Just know that meditation is an investment in yourself.
- Meditation is for new age hippy-dippy folks. If you dig crystals and Enya, more power to you, but meditation doesn’t need to have any cultural framing or aesthetic to be 100% effective. It also doesn’t require gurus or teachers.
- Meditation is just deep breathing. Some styles of meditation focus on breath. Many others don’t. (You just breathe normally.)
- Meditation is woo-woo. There’s a mountain of academic studies which catalog the profound benefits of meditation. But even if you think the research is baloney, you might as well try it anyway since meditation is free and has no harmful side effects. For millions of people (myself included), it works.
- Meditation is about trying not to think. The voice in your head won’t vanish when you meditate. Thoughts aren’t an enemy to be conquered; don’t fight them. They arise involuntarily. They might take a brief pause here and there, but you can’t turn them off. And you shouldn’t try to, or you’ll just frustrate yourself. Rather, create space by observing them. That way when they come you can acknowledge them and let them go. Creating space around your thoughts makes you more resilient. Unuseful thoughts will show up less often and will be less likely to bring you down. This isn’t just a mental effect — you can feel it all over your body. Being an observer of your thoughts makes you realize that you aren’t them, just as we aren’t our possessions, our goals, our history, or our achievements. Or what people tell us about ourselves.
Meditation is technology. It is an effective way to get a desired result. That result is feeling better. People describe it many different ways — calm, happiness, peace, bliss, connectedness, joy, etc. The words are just subjective labels. Just know that everybody who wants to feel better can benefit from meditation.
In my experience, meditation helps you feel gratitude. Gratitude inoculates you from fear. It’s like compassion and courage have a block party in your heart. Want to feel good in this life? Figure out how to feel grateful. Meditation can help anyone do that.
There are hundreds of ways to meditate. The trick is finding meditations that work for you. Some are done lying down, some sitting, some standing, some walking, some with your eyes open, some silently, some with your voice, some using visual imagery, some using word combinations, some using special breathing techniques, some using biofeedback devices… When they work for you, you’ll feel it.
When I’m meditating, I can feel the moment my brain “lets go.” It doesn’t always happen, but when it does, there’s an immediate shift. Sometimes a good feeling wave rushes through my body. Other times it’s like my insides are suddenly floating (in a good way). Sometimes it’s even similar to the warm buzz that comes from having a drink or two.
The concept of presence is at the core of all meditations. Presence just means that you are here, not living in a hypothetical future or playing re-runs from the past.
If you tend to worry about the future, spin on bad scenarios you fear will come to pass, beat yourself up repeatedly over mistakes you’ve made, replay cruel words somebody you care about said to you, or a raft of other un-useful stuff like that, presence lifts you out of the morass.
30-Second Ahhh Meditation
If you’re game for giving meditation a try, let’s set ourselves up for success. Like with exercise, set the bar so low that there’s literally no excuse not to do it.
The 30-Second Ahhh meditation is only four breaths:
- Sitting where you are, relax your shoulders, gently close your eyes, and relax your jaw. (Your lips, tongue, and cheeks will become soft.)
- Slowly inhale through your nose. Don’t force it; just inhale till your lungs feel comfortably full.
- Then slowly exhale through your nose, mouth, or both; whatever comes naturally for you.
- Throughout the entire exhale, silently say to yourself, “Ahhhhh…” as if you just relaxed into a warm bath.
- After four breaths slowly open your eyes.
Listen to how your body feels during the meditation. If you’re anything like me, a wave of calm will come over you, and you’ll feel refreshed and clear-minded.
Try this mediation once per day and see how you feel after ten days. If you to do it more than once per day, that’s great, but do the 30 seconds daily as a baseline. This is the start of a meditation practice which can serve you for a lifetime. Later on you may want to go longer, or more frequently, or try many other types of meditation, or invent your own. It’s all good.
If after ten days you’re looking for more styles to try out, hop onto Calm or Headspace and give them a shot. Or try some guided meditations. Or check out some other styles and explore. Try out whatever looks intriguing to you. There’s no downside, so be curious.
A few tips to consider which apply to almost all styles of meditation:
- Don’t stress about having perfect conditions to meditate. The less meditative the environment, the more doing a bit of meditation can help you. You can do the 30-second Ahhh in the middle of a busy cafe, at your desk at work, or waiting in line at a concert. You can even do it at a stop light (with your eyes open of course). The more you do it, the more conditioned the meditation response will be. It’s a skill — you can learn to center and de-stress yourself in seconds.
- Your eyes, jaw and tongue are key to meditation. If they’re tight it makes it difficult for the brain to relax and shift into a meditative state. No scientific proof for this that I’m aware of; it’s just my experience. Directing your intention to let them become softer and softer with each exhale is in itself meditative and can trigger a wave of relaxation through your body. You can distinctly feel when the shift happens. You may even feel a sort of pulsing of blood or energy into your gums and teeth. That’s a good sign.
- Body position doesn’t need to be fussy when meditating. People usually have images of yogis with pretzel legs and upturned palms. Not necessary. Some styles give specific guidance about body position, but generally speaking, the important thing is to be comfortable. That can mean sitting, lying down, standing, or walking. (Being meditative while moving is its own skill and part of what qigong and tai chi teach.) If you meditate lying down and you fall asleep, it means your body needed the rest. If you want to make sure you don’t fall asleep, sit upright in a chair with feet flat on the floor and your head free (not supported).
- Like exercise and eating well, the benefits of meditation are cumulative. Meditation might make you feel better straight away, and it might release a lot of stress that’s been looking for a way out. But the really big gains come from the consistency of doing it daily for the long run. There’s no such thing as a bad meditation. Just show up every day, even if it’s only for a couple minutes. Figure out the best way to fit it into your daily patterns. I get the most from doing it twice per day — in the morning and in the afternoon (sometimes right before supper). Sometime it’s just for a few minutes; other times longer. Showing up is far more important than the length of time.
- Try meditating when you first awaken. Even if you’ve got a busy day ahead, just one or two minutes before you get out of bed makes your whole morning more civilized.
- Ever find yourself lying in bed with your mind racing, even if you’re exhausted? Meditation is a fantastic way to transition into sleep. Lie on your back, breathe slow full breaths, and feel your face (especially your eyes and jaw) relax with each exhale. As you exhale, feel a part of your body sinking into the bed, as if it’s getting heavier. You can even silently say to yourself, “My left leg is completely relaxed.” Work your way up your body doing this for three or four breaths per body part. If you’re not out cold by the time you get to your head, with each exhale, feel your eyes and jaws get softer and softer. This is basically self-hypnosis, or what some call autosuggestion or autogenic training.
- Don’t feel like you need to use an alarm to meditate. You can softly glance at a watch to see how long it’s been, and you’ll soon be able to sense how long it’s been. If you feel you need to use an alarm or have an appointment, use an alarm app that lets you set a really calm, non-jarring sound. You don’t want to be jolted out of meditation with sharp beeps. It’s important to come out of meditation gradually and smoothly, especially if it’s a longer meditation. Open your eyes slowly. Treat it sort of the same way you go from sleeping to standing. You don’t come out of a deep sleep and instantly leap out of bed. If you’re doing a very short meditation this is less important, but for deeper meditations where you really feel yourself floating, don’t jolt yourself out of it.
- If you start meditating and you feel jittery or your mind is racing like a jackrabbit, that’s OK. It’s just a signal that you can really use the meditation. Really “chatty” meditations are like letting off steam. Don’t try to “force” the brain chatter away. Instead just tune into how your body feels. Your senses are the portal to presence. For example, actually try to feel your hands, or even your teeth. (Yes, you can feel your teeth!) Or listen to and feel your breath. Notice what’s happening to your body, almost like you were an observer, and you’ll shift into a state of presence which helps your whole body shift.
As your meditation practice goes along, you’ll find you can feel and do amazing things. And you’ll come to realize that meditation isn’t meant to be an isolated act. Meditation itself can be a blissful experience, but it’s more about making everything else better. The equanimity of the meditative state is something we can bring to the rest of our day.
Travel Opens Hearts and Minds
People who say it’s a small world just haven’t traveled enough. Our planet is gargantuan and weird and spectacular. The more you see of it, the more you grow.
Travel makes you wiser about people and the daunting complexity of the world. It helps you understand yourself better and what you’d like your life to be about. It makes you a better communicator. It makes you more resourceful and resilient. It makes you understand that experiences are far more valuable than stuff.
It’s also humbling.
If you were born in a developed economy and grew up speaking English, congratulations. You won the economic birth lottery. I did, and though I’ve had stretches of my life where I’ve been a raging workaholic, I now comprehend the preposterous luck that made that work really count.
Sure, we can always change our circumstances to some degree with hard work. But what that means in practice is something entirely different when you’re born in a village where houses have dirt floors, a communal water pump for a shower, no internet access, and everyone speaks a language that has no international commercial use whatsoever. It opens your heart to what fortune and circumstance really mean.
This needs to be witnessed to be fully understood. Reading about it isn’t enough. It can tap into a source of gratitude which can change your entire life.
Many people who live in the most difficult material circumstances are often more kind and gracious than people in wealthy economies. The most carefree, joyful children I’ve seen live in circumstances that are nothing short of shocking. Watching kids laugh, spin, giggle, tumble, and twirl in giant trash heaps changes your perspective about what it means to lead a free and happy life.
The humbling impact of travel made me realize something: There is no greater insult to poor people than to blame violence on poverty. A culture of violence is what fosters violent behavior. A culture of kindness can transcend harsh material adversity.
If you’re new to international travel, here are a few tips I wish I had known from the start.
More Affordable Than You Think
If you have the means to travel in style, great. But there are many ways to see the world even if you have little or no savings. There’s lots of guidance here, here, and here. I know people who have traveled across continents having unforgettable experiences on almost nothing by couchsurfing.
Be aware if you’re new to international travel that some people hold a negative stereotype of Americans. The stereotype is known as the ugly American. It’s part attitude (pompous, loud, presumptuous) and part aesthetic (poorly mannered, dressed like a conspicuous tourist).
That the U.S. regime for decades has gone around the world bombing and meddling with countries while pretending it’s humanitarianism is a sore spot with many people. Actually meeting people who have fled U.S. invasions, had their homes destroyed, lost limbs, and buried family members is something every American would benefit from. Just being aware of the ugly American stereotype goes a long way to avoiding being typecast. This, this and this offer some do’s and don’ts.
The Occasional Life-Saver
If you’re someplace new and adventurous eating exotic, fun foods and an hour or two later you suddenly feel sketchy, immediately take activated charcoal. (That’s just one of many brands.) Activated charcoal at the first signs of stomach problems truly can save you from a world of misery. It sounds bizarre if you don’t know about it, but it works like magic. It’s not the same as BBQ charcoal. Activated charcoal is what hospitals pump into people who have ingested poison. Have some at home, and always when you travel. If you ever need to pop a few, think of me fondly when you avoid a long night of suffering. 😉
Traveling light is a skill. You learn from experience what you really need. But no matter what you pack, hauling lots of suitcases is a drag. A great way to avoid that is using travel compression bags. For example, toss your t-shirts into one and then squeeze ‘n’ roll the bag to force the air out of it. It not only keeps your clothing in handy separate groups, it saves a ton of luggage space. Things pack so much more tightly that you end up with at least one fewer suitcases than you’d normally need.
As far as cleaning clothes, if you’re in hotels, they’ll kill you on price. Use local laundry services and they’ll wash your stuff for typically one-quarter to one-eighth the cost. Or just do the hotel hand-wash.
More Than Words
Here are a few photos from the road. Maybe they’ll give you the travel bug too.
A friend asked me what this book is about, and I said, “Life, I think.”
I hope yours is miraculous.
As for me, I’ll be asking myself every day if I feel good. When the answer isn’t yes, I’m going to figure out how to get there.
I’ll keep marveling at and being grateful for the visionary beings who are building our decentralized future.
Let’s hope the impact of politics on our lives dwindles peacefully into the shadows of history.
Until that time, may you feel good and feel free.
All text and my travel photos are published under the CC0 public domain license. Use them for any purpose you wish. All other images are displayed under the Fair Use terms of non-commercial use for commentary, criticism, and education. My other writing is here. Send your love, hate, and wisdom to bananas (at) tutanota.com. Thanks for reading.