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The Practice of Freedom

If 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!

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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” (to the extent that there is one).

This is how we lose everything we stand for.

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Warren Buffet gives me hope in capitalism.

Buffett is undeniably one of the greatest business philosophers in history. He is also widely considered to be the most successful investor of the 20th century, with an estimated net worth of $66.4 billion, 99% of which he’s pledged to philanthropic causes.

And I haven’t been able to shake something he said in his recent, post Donald-gate, interview with CNN:

I don’t think anybody can grow our economy, in real terms, at four percent a year over time [which Trump has promised] … There may be a given year when that happens, but the math of it is just too extraordinary. If you simply grow our economy two percent a year—which we’ve been doing—you will have $19,000 more GDP per capita in one generation.

[Americans] don’t have to depend on four percent growth. They have to depend on better distribution of two percent growth.

Buffett goes on to say, “This country will be fine even if we elect the ‘wrong’ president.”

I love Buffett on economics of course, but there are implications in what he says for society too. No matter which side of the aisle you’re on, if you want the benefits of living in a multicultural, pluralistic nation—and there are many—you have to face the reality that progress in a democracy is often a slower process than you’d like.

For democratic party voters, that’s the real lesson of this election: some of us (Americans, not “conservatives”) weren’t—and may never be—ready for the rapid social changes of the last several decades.

Globalization. Same sex marriage. Abortion. A thoroughly secular public sphere.

I’m a social progressive. I don’t agree with any of that, but I understand that others struggle with those issues and that they vote for candidates that seem to take a more conservative approach.

We may not like it, and we should engage it with the tools available to us—public demonstration, debate, discussion of ideas, ridicule, satire—but we also need to learn to appreciate the swings of the pendulum that ensure even progress across the spectrum.

Because, in aggregate, things are improving. As Buffett says, we certainly need to focus on the distribution of those benefits, but things are getting better.

There’s evidence that social progress is compounding at an even faster rate over time. This infographic from Bloomberg illustrates.

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I’ve been telling and retelling an interesting Trump anecdote over the past few days.

When The Donald’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, reached out to John Kasich about the vice presidency, Kasich reportedly asked (as one does), “What’s the job description?”

To which Manafort replied, “You’ll be in charge of domestic and foreign policy.”

“Well,” asked Kasich, “What is Trump going to do?”

“He’s going to make America great again.”

It’s difficult to grok the fact of the Trump election without seeing it through a lens of sales and marketing strategy.

Of course, Trump didn’t use traditional methods. He used the internet, so it looked different than any of us are used to. But the same time-tested sales principles worked for him: shock and awe, emotional reasoning, divide and conquer, repetition, redirection, scarcity.

Trump recognized a series of opportunities and strung them together for his gain, because that’s what entrepreneurs do. They recognize underutilized resources that can be matched with underserved markets, and they capitalize.

Here’s what Trump saw:

  • A fractured republican party, with several emerging ideas conflicting for dominance
  • A newly Internet-centric media landscape still in its formative stages that was ripe for manipulation
  • The American people still unaware of the impact of this new form of media on the culture and at a loss for how to navigate it

And in the end, Trump used old sales tactics on new platforms to reunite the broken right and sell them a fool’s hope.

Trump got rich, as we know, by “slapping his name on buildings”. His game has not changed. He’s still an opportunist making use of underutilized real estate.

Only this time it’s not a tower with his name on it—it’s a country.

I have a lot of sympathy for all the Trump-supporting special interest groups out there, and for all the single-issue voters, because if what I’m saying is true, then no champion to your cause has risen.

And he will not deliver on the promises he made during his ascent.

If you were on the right and you wanted him to say “I’m pro-life”, he talked about ripping fetuses out. If you wanted him to say “I’m tough on immigration”, he promised to build a wall. If you wanted him to talk about bringing jobs back, he talked about tariffs on international trade.

In short, he made what promises he needed to make to get you the right kind of “ready to buy”—and he’ll do the minimum amount needed to appease you now that you’re his customers.

My sense, and I know it’s hard to hear, is that Donald Trump doesn’t care about you, me, or even making America great again (whatever that means). He’s only strengthening his position in the marketplace of selling empty promises, emotions, and ideas to desperate people—and it’s a market with massive growth potential.

Only a true consumerist could commodify people, religions, whole segments of the population this way. And, of course, if that’s not what we see in Donald Trump, then who is he?

He is not a savior. He is not even a remarkable businessman. He’s a salesman, an opportunist, a money-grabber, and you’ve been sold.

I have beliefs are important to me and, yes, sacred. These are values and positions that I have made sacrifices for, struggled to defend, and even struggled to maintain at times.

I also know what it’s like to have those things devalued and played with—it hurts.

It’s going be a while, but once the healing begins, and we all feel ready to sit down at the same tables again, I’d like to extend an olive branch. As a freethinker, as someone who believes in democratic conversation, even if I don’t agree with you, I promise to hear you out.

Today, tomorrow, and always.

I—and I hope an increasing amount of my fellow liberals—will do everything in my power to see things from your perspective, to feel them the way that you do, to understand what it’s like to stand in your shoes, and even to allow my opinions to be shaped by the experience.

Over the last 10 years or so, a movement on the left has taken form that seems to take ghoulish pride in their complete antagonism towards certain (read: conservative) ideas, while hiding behind a thin veneer of “tolerance” and political correctness. Their “virtue signaling” gets media sympathy and has even begun, dangerously I think, to shape broader cultural norms and policies.

This has to stop—it is undemocratic and uncivilized.

But Trump is not the answer.

My final hope is that the disappointment that Trump is and will continue to prove to be can be a starting point for a true democratic conversation that opens up legitimate and sustainable inroads into our common goal—that of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

I have faith in us as people, and I have faith in our mission.

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(For those who are reading this after the end of the world, Donald Trump was just elected president of the United States. Please build a time machine and come back to warn us.)

I thought I’d share my—personal—prescription for sanity at the moment.

Of course I hope this list can be useful to others, but if it takes a preachy tone it’s because I’m preaching to myself.

Stay curious and carry on. 🙂

  • Stay curious, investigate possible scenarios, choose your response based on evidence.
  • Emotions are a guide to self-knowledge: what’s important to you, why, when. But emotions aren’t evidence, nor are they universal truths.
  • Have a plan for the worst case, but entertain more likely scenarios too.
  • Train your mind and body. Be ready to act effectively and decisively as needed.
  • Know what you want. Define what it means to get there—and STOP when you do. Incessant action is not productivity.
  • Regularly break bread with friends, neighbors and family who want the same basic things, but have different ideas about how to get there.
  • Keep a very close eye on those who refuse to break bread, but be very sure that you’ve done everything you can to make it safe for them to do so.
  • Remember this: some people are so wounded they can’t even sit at the table.
  • Approach “opponents” to your ideas as potential resources. Remember: our project is large, and none of us—no matter how much we paid for our education—can see the whole picture.
  • Assume that your opponents are not completely insane. Remember that most of us are desperate and afraid—but unwilling (or unable) to feel it and deal with it.
  • Feel it. Deal with it.
  • Seek to understand and speak to the general truth in your opponent’s take on an issue. If you can’t do that, try to understand that, given their life experience and background, their view makes sense.
  • If you want other people to be open to revising their ideas and approaches, get really, really, really good at doing it yourself.
  • Ask: what would a solution look like that solved both your and your opponents basic concerns? Make damn sure you’ve figured that out before confronting the BIGGER questions like, “What is a human life worth?” “Why do humans kill each other?” “What is love?” “Does God exist?”
  • Take a long-term view: democracy and the larger project of human cultural evolution take time. Don’t let your anxiety about things not being exactly the way you want them right this moment get in the way of effective action and clear thinking.
  • Ask: what kind of a world would this be if only the group that agreed with you lived in it? Would it be the one you wanted? What would it mean for your group?
  • Breathe. (Seriously, it works.)
  • The internet is not reality, and the things stressed and overworked people fire off in the early hours of the morning on Facebook are not necessarily representative of their highest aspirations.
  • Find ways to connect and discuss ideas offline, even if it’s scary.
  • Remember the Chicken Head Story (blog post coming soon).