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A practical look at the practice and philosophy of freedom. Why John Stuart Mill’s brand of individualism is as relevant today as ever.

John Stuart Mill's philosophy underpins generations of progress in civil liberties and free speech

If you want freedom, you can’t deny it to others. If you want to be respected, trusted, and treated like an adult, you have to respect and trust others.

In 1859, in his seminal work On Libertythe English philosopher John Stuart Mill wrote:

The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it. Each is the proper guardian of his own health, whether bodily, or mental or spiritual. Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest.

None of us has the option to love and value democracy, free-speech, and liberty on the condition that others must think and act like us. And the place to start practicing is with ourselves and our closest relationships.

To what extent are you denying freedom to those around you? To what extent are you denying it to yourself?

Instead of obstructing, imposing your beliefs (no matter how well-reasoned and well-meaning), and criticizing, help us to:

  • Learn responsibility
  • Practice ethical decision-making
  • Tell our own stories
  • Tell the truth
  • Make mistakes and learn from them
  • Take care of ourselves and others
  • Steward the contents of our own minds
  • Grow and change
  • Lean into conflict
  • Learn to listen
  • Set boundaries
  • Speak out
  • Participate

This is how we get there. And this is how we arrive together.

This post could be considered a continuation of my earlier post, The Practice of Freedom. It’s one of my favorites, and worth a look-see.

Featured image is John Stuart Mill by London Stereoscopic Company, c. 1870.

Some thoughts about moving towards a more integrated form of masculinity. One that is strong and flexible, emotional and capable, critical and creative.

Masculinity is no relic from a bygone era—it's a critical force in the modern world

This entry is another from my “tough conversations with the opposition” series.

The only thing that’s turned out to be “tough” about these conversations is getting past my initial doubt—all hypothetical, all “in my head”—that we’ll be able to connect at all. I am finding that I have much more in common with these folks that I thought.

As I’ve said before, most of us want to get to the same place (ie, equality amongst men and women, life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness), but we have different ideas about how to get there.

The true power of a pluralistic society goes deeper than racial diversity, sexual diversity, and economic diversity.

The hard line between us and the rest of the animal kingdom is our cognitive diversity—how we think about things, the values that we hold dear, moral judgements, etc. And what humanizes us is our ability moderate these differences as they arise in ourselves and in our communities.

More than anything, these conversations have been a gift to myself. I am clarifying my thinking, expanding my worldview, and becoming more comfortable in my own skin.

So, my thanks to “the opposition” who are further and further from my enemy every day.

I founded and facilitate a men’s group (3 guys + myself) on a bi-weekly basis. That “men are too soft” is one of my big takeaways from that work. I have so much to say about this, but it sounds like you and I are on the same page here.

My sense is that this is not only where MOST of us fall short, it is where Trump falls short. He’s masquerading. Just like most of us.

When a man can’t occasionally wash the dishes or wipe a baby’s butt and not feel like he’s losing something something core to himself, that’s a sign of weakness. Not physically, but emotionally.

An example from my life.

My grandfather was strong and had many things going for him on the masculinity front but, for all the time I spent with him, I can say this: he was one of the moodiest people (man or woman) that I’ve ever known. And, in his younger days, he was brittle—he could snap at any given second.

And, like Trump, sometimes this brittle moodiness passed for masculinity.

Confucius said, “The green reed which bends in the wind is stronger than the mighty oak which breaks in a storm.”

This is the poise that men need to strive for.

After much much work, I have overcome the brittle moodiness that I learned from the underdeveloped men in my life. And now I can focus on serving, creating value, being creative, developing the skills needed to be a real protector, and living a fantastic life that is attractive and inspiring to the people around me.

As a result, I end up leading by example, not by a carrot and a stick.

Trump is not a physically-emotionally integrated protector/provider. Trump is our reality TV president.

I don’t want to throw my grandfather under the bus. He is perhaps single-handedly responsible for my poetry habit. He was outspoken, an Irishman who took a stand, fought during World War II in Papua New Guinea, and raised an amazing family.

For all of his faults and virtues, he is my hero.

Image credit is The Fountain of Neptune in Florence, Italy, photographer unknown.

The first from my “letters” series. Some ideas about why the philosophical foundations of secular society are essential for religious tolerance.

Secular society helps us strike a balance between the rational and the mythological mind

Since the election, I’ve been putting effort into having conversations with people from the opposite side of the political spectrum.

These conversations—whether they happen via phone, in-person, text or email—have been helpful. I’m clarifying my thoughts, finding common ground, revising my opinions and questioning my assumptions.

I wanted to post some excerpts here for two reasons:

  1. To do my part use the internet for good to fuel healthy debate and discussion
  2. To provide some inspiration and possible jumping-off points for other looking to do the same

I hope you enjoy! As always, feel free to comment and challenge me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Re: science. I don’t have an out-of-the-box problem with skepticism of science (I am a huge proponent of skepticism in all of its forms!). But it seems to me that a free-thinking and democratic society can only be structured around things that are demonstrable. Otherwise, you’ve got Islamists saying “I know that giving my life for the establishment of the caliphate will be rewarded in Heaven”, Christians saying “I know that the Bible was written by the only God that matters”, and Buddhists living in an imaginary world of “non-harm”, while being okay with other people killing their food for them.

And all of them want to see their untestable ideas underwrite the whole of civil society. Which can only result in bloodshed.

Also, and even more frightening for me, is the fact that the extent to which each group’s beliefs are protected from scrutiny is the exact extent to which it is okay for another to go on blowing people up for religious reasons.

I’m fine with whatever people want to believe in their homes.

But the distinctions that will give us the kind of world where all of these people can live without killing each other can be established through some version of the scientific method.

Some examples:

  • Exactly what extent and form of gun control helps us meet the goals of self-protection, sovereignty, and harm reduction? Testable. Answerable.
  • Exactly what types of tribalism and traditional social norms are required to maintain civil society and simultaneously allow for a growing population that is necessarily more pluralistic? Testable. Answerable.
  • Exactly when is a human a human in development and what do we want to decide about when it is okay/not okay to take that human being’s life? Testable. Debatable. I would argue answerable, but probably not on a national scale since values vary from locale to locale.

It seems like anything short of this requires imposing some form of state-sponsored totalitarian religious regime.

Isn’t hiding behind the ideology of political correctness really similar to hiding behind a religious ideology? Both are unprovable, both oversimplify things, both take some sort of high ground that seems to exempt them from scrutiny and debate. Thoughts?

Featured art source is unknown. Sculpture is of the Hindu god Ganesha. Ganesha is widely revered as the remover of obstacles, the patron of arts and sciences and the deva of intellect and wisdom.

A brief guide to insulating yourself from ideology, fear, and practicing freedom in the wake of the 2016 election and beyond.

Practicing freedom is a creative actIf you feel weak, find a way to feel strong.

Have conversations with your rivals. Practice rationality and reason. Find your spiritual—not religious—center. Learn new skills. Expose yourself to new ideas. Expose yourself to discomfort in all its forms.

If you fear fighting for your ideals become a fighter.

Discover a personal code of conduct, morals, values, and beliefs apart from any in-group, organization or tribe. Define your inviolables. Get clear on what it means to have those violated, disrespected, infringed upon. Decide on and rehearse your response in advance of any challenge. Be prepared.

If you rely on corporate media (liberal or conservative), seek out free-thinkers with a personal code that bolsters your own.

The internet is vast and your local community is deep. Find thinkers, writers, and artists you trust. Check and double check their affiliations. Understand their possible biases and motivations. Put them up for audit on a regular basis. Withdraw your allegiances to media brands (see this chart for help).

Finally, let it all go.

When have made yourself strong, become vulnerable. When you have become a fighter, learn to make peace. When you have found your sources, become a diligent student of the mainstream.

You can do it—we’re with you. And it matters.

This post was inspired by Eric Weinstein’s recent tweet.

Infinite respect and gratitude to Eric. Thanks for being one of my “guys”.

Art is by Xhai Middleton. Check Xhai out on Instagram!

Free speech is a civil liberty of the most wretched amongst us—and also the most deserving. Take it away from one, take it away from all.

If you’re for free speech, tolerance and liberal values, you can’t pick and choose. Any freedom of expression that you take away from someone you disagree with, you also take away from yourself.

That’s how it works.

As liberals, our plan over the next four years should be to double down on ensuring that conservative viewpoints are better represented in the high towers where ideas are discussed.

TED talks. Colleges. Netflix documentaries.

Because, running from the conversation, denying our opponents a seat at the table, shouting that “the system’s broken” when we’re not getting exactly what we want—this is not only how we lose the “war”.

This is how we lose everything we stand for.

Image source unknown. Alpha (Α or α) and omega (Ω or ω) are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, and a title of Christ and God in the Book of Revelation.