Advice I wish I had gotten…and followed


Build it for the long term. Employ your power of choice and action in increasing that same power of choice and action. Accumulate to yourself skill, virtue, and property, not with the aim of satisfying your desires, but with the aim of empowering yourself to satisfy any present or future desires you may have. You are going to know more in the future; the wisest thing you can do in your youthful ignorance is insure that when you are armed with knowledge, you are also armed with other things.

Everybody goes through a period where the prevailing condition of their mind is not right nor left nor this nor that but “uncertain.” We can very easily imagine the sage saying to his student, “Before I was enlightened, I believed such and so, and before that I believed so and such and wanted this and that, and before that it was this and that…and before that I didn’t know how to believe or want anything. And before that, I just wanted some chicken nuggets.” After childhood, one adopts a system of priorities and values. But if one is to have a system of priorities and values properly his own, he must learn both to create these things, and to love what he has created. And neither of these are a smaller project than learning to walk. The more seriously independent the mind of the adult is to be, the more strongly its tower of solitude must be built. And building a strong tower is a project that takes years; that is, it is a project that remains unfinished for years. This is what I did not understand when I was seventeen.

In the darkness of that time, I cast about for the proper goal to pursue, whether it was to be the life of monasticism or hedonism, of intense involvement in the world’s achievements or ruthless rejection of them. That was not a mistake; one must feel his way through the dark, in an especially necessary form of the word “must”. What was a mistake was to rip up all my progress in one direction every time I changed direction, and even worse, to not advance at all during the periods of total lostness. I should have considered that there is no goal that would not benefit from self-discipline, no course my life could take that would not benefit from enhanced practical skills, no possible outcome where I would be gladĀ  for what I had not learned. Doing hard work is always of benefit; if you don’t know what to do, do the hard thing. When I at last cleared that mental fog, finally knowing how I should act and what goals I was to pursue, then I was glad not for the searching I had done, I was glad for the tools of action I had accumulated during that period. I was glad for the power of purposeful choice I had accumulated before I had a purpose. And in retrospect, I wish I had known to spend every day of my ignorance sharpening my axe in preparation for the day I would find a place to swing it.

Build up your power. Gain the ability to do. Don’t try to educate yourself for the purpose of getting “in.” Don’t even educate yourself to find things out. Educate yourself as you would arm yourself: As preparation with equipment for the unknown. The “Why” is elusive; learn the “How.” Equip your mind with knowledge and skill, whatever you can do, it is an activity which is actually impossible to regret.

You will never be sorry for knowing how to do something.
You will never find out what you’re good at without finding out you’re bad at a lot of things.
And the harder is to learn something, the fewer people are going to put the effort in to become good at it.
Conclusion: You become exceptional, and exceptionally needed, by making very serious attempts at mastery of skills without certainty of your aptitude in them, or of their value.

The wise Dr. Gary North refers to our calling as the most important thing we can do, at which we would be most difficult to replace.

He’s right. He’s right about everything. This entire speech is advice I wish I had had, and followed. I watch this video every couple of months, but I think I’d be out of line expecting anybody else to watch it, unless that person is an Austrian scholar with a long attention span and an affinity for the topic. A friend of mine calls this “Father Death, preaching at the pulpit.”

My point is that our calling is a thing we can do, not a thing we could do; our power of action must be expanded sufficiently to include that activity (and probably a lot of others) for us to ever say, “I have found my calling.” And there are three things that empower a person to do more than they otherwise could: Skill, virtue, and property. These and these alone are the vectors of legitimate power.

What do I mean when I say that property is a necessary element of human choice? I mean the other side of what Marxists constantly cry about; how the Capitalist factory owner has the power of property and is therefore in a negotiating position far above that of the individual worker. It is so, assuming (as they do) that the worker is a landless tenant, incapable of engaging in the slightest productive activity without submitting to the Capitalist’s employment agreement and the landlord’s rental agreement. But there is nothing natural about this individual economic helplessness; it is not a necessity of history that a man seeking employment seeks it as an alternative to outright starvation and homelessness. The habit of the modern consumer is to consume luxury rather than security; to mortgage a $300,000.00 house for thirty years for payments that could make a rougher place his forever. As knowledge equips the mind to overcome error, so property (of the right kind) equips the body to overcome want. To overcome these entanglements is an inevitably worthwhile pursuit.

What do I mean when I say virtue is a well of power? I mean that Lincoln endured through the furnace of his trials because of his character; he was a victor because he was as wise as he was, just as he was, upright as he was. Hitler shattered suddenly in the same furnace because he had not virtue, but its imitation: Pride. There is no quality of the heart that brings final victory except that which is alike to God; fortitude, courage, insight, ingenuity, justice, self-sacrifice, foresight, joy, faithfulness…One cannot build the B-29 without Godlike ingenuity, one cannot fly it without Godlike defiance of fear. A man overcomes only by being what God made him to be.

If you don’t know what to do, start readying as many tools of as many kinds as you can, in preparation for the day you do know. Because as soon as that day comes, you are absolutely going to be wishing you had done more of that.

Distributism: The impossible utopia of the reasonable.


Chesterton used to say that funny is the opposite of not funny, and of nothing else. His point was that the truth is funny, and that its hilarity is no excuse for ignoring its seriousness. Above is the reality of corporate operations. And public-sector operations as well. I could spend a million words trying to explain it, brilliant satirists could (and do) tackle it, economists could take their blinders off and start analyzing the incentives within firms rather than treating firms as singular, profit-driven units, but in the end, the damn picture tells the story, and you already know it’s true if you’ve worked under this system. You probably know it even more acutely if you feel a pang of guilt, recognizing your place in the outer ring. Continue reading

The ivory law

See here for a Washington Post article on this “law”.

I’m not intending to write about the enormous unconstitutionality of the Obama administration’s actions here; legislation by the executive branch, and an at-will reversal of the burden of proof in a criminal case (ie. you are now guilty unless you can prove yourself innocent, as to the matter of the age of the ivory or its purchase date) is nothing to a president who has publicly declared his authority to kill anyone on Earth with a drone strike, purely at his own discretion.

Rather, I want to write about the actual effect such efforts have on the survival of the African Elephant, including recent policies such as the destruction of contraband ivory (See this Fish and Wildlife page for details). Now the conservationists are concerned about the record level of elephant poaching in 2011, at 10,000 elephants killed. This level of pressure is pushing the species back into danger of extinction, and has been the impetus for the renewed cries for legislation beyond the original provisions of the CITES treaty and the 1989 ivory ban. Obviously, obstructing the Ivory trade should undermine and reduce poaching, shouldn’t it? And by thus reducing poaching, we should be able to drag the species back from near-extinction, right?

On a topic that may seem unrelated, in the same year that 10,000 elephants were killed in the continent of Africa, fifty times that number of cows were slaughtered in the state of Nebraska. And the state of Texas. And the state of Kansas. In the month of January. And every successive month for the whole year except for February in Kansas, when they only slaughtered 495,000 head, and December when it was only 497,800. Slackers. In fact, there are only handful of US states that did not kill more cows in 2011 than the whole of Africa killed elephants. Continue reading