The New (Peaceful) Revolution

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If you were playing a game of monopoly where one player was given 10 times the money and got to take three turns to everyone else’s one, you would likely quit the game. Of course, if you were the lucky one with all the money and opportunity you would probably try to convince everyone else to keep playing because it is so much fun for you. You might even occasionally give them a little money to convince them to keep playing. Now I am mostly referring to the fact that some people will be given a gift of millions of dollars when they start the game and others will not even be given a basic education or safe place to sleep at night. The fact that literally billions of dollars can be concentrated in the hands of one person is also a huge problem of too much power in the hands of a few that can create a serious moral hazard for millions of people at the mercy of a few. These things can both be solved but not by continuing to play the game under the current rules. A game rigged in this manner ought to be quit. If there is virtually no hope of changing the rules, then we owe it to ourselves and our children to start a new game and leave the other one behind.

The solution to the problems of society will not be found in continuing to play the very game that caused those problems, but in starting a brand-new game to play alongside the one that was rigged and invite everyone to come and play this new game. All the tools to start a new game right alongside this one that is so lop sided are in our hands. What would it mean to start a new game? What would one need to start a new game where the players that came and joined your game would be much more likely to become millionaires but would never ever become billionaires? What would you need to start a new game that would heal the planet instead of destroy it?

The answer is actually quite simple. The answer is all around us. The answer lies in bringing together all of the best ideas that are found in our modern society and combining them. The first and most important innovation that humans have discovered is cooperation. Businesses exploit the very profitable concept of human cooperation which produces tremendous wealth. This idea is very simple. Imagine a single man trying to drag a boulder off his land. Imagine that it is so heavy that it is cutting into the ground as he goes. Moving the boulder in this manner he can move it about a foot every minute. Now imagine that two other guys see him and decide to help him. Together they are able to lift the boulder up and walk with it. Now they are able to move it 30 feet off of his property in one minute. Instead of a rate that was 3 times as fast with 3 men, the rate was 30 times as fast. If you divide that labor profit equally then each one of them would be 10 times richer in terms of labor productivity. This is how cooperation works. We are all better off if we work together. But this wealth produced by cooperation can no longer be going to such an uneven number of people. What kind of business structure is still driven by the powerful engine of the profit motive but the profits are shared much more fairly among the ones doing the work. The employee owned coop is a model that has been time tested and proven to work very well. There are thousands of successful employee owned coops all over the world. The employee owned coop will be the foundation of the economy of the new game.

The second most basic component of the new game that is the fundamental building block is the small permaculture farm. If we are not producing our own food in the new game then we really don’t have a sustainable game and we will be vulnerable to the will of those who do produce the food. If you haven’t had the pleasure of hearing about or seeing the beautiful marriage of ethics, science, and nature that represents the modern permaculture movement, I cannot recommend strongly enough a serious study of this movement. Put simply, permaculture is a way of farming that is sustainable, highly ethical, and founded solidly on the latest science. However, it is much more than that as well. It is also a science and ethic of human habitation. The only problem with the modern permaculture movement is that as far as I can tell the practitioners are making the planet a richer environment but they are impoverishing themselves. This is where the fist principle needs to come to the rescue of the second principle. There is no reason a small permaculture farm cannot be a hugely profitable endeavor. If one uses the principles of permaculture, 20 acres of farmland could easily provide the food, shelter and energy for 20 people. If 20 adults created an employee owned coop on this land and also lived together on this land we could easily see how this model could not only enrich the planet but also make the owners of this coop very wealthy. Imagine that these 20 adults are sharing the need for cash flow and the need to work on the farm. This shared responsibility would mean that maybe half would be working a 9 to 5 job off the farm for some other business and half would be working to make the little estate a beautiful, highly productive, and fun place to live. This would mean that the income would be 300k to 600k per year. Within 10 to 15 years of starting the operation all the debt could be eliminated and they could be producing nearly all of their own food. The homes could be built in a way that allowed a hotel room type private space for each adult and several shared spaces for socializing and entertainment. Because these would be run like a business, the members would own stock and could cash out and leave at will. The objectives of each micro-village/farm would be to become independently sustainable, create a fun and fulfilling life for the members, and spawn other farms and other local employee owned coops nearby. It is the act of spawning new farms that would provide a pressure relief valve for the members that were having trouble getting along with other members on their farm. It is natural and normal that some of the members will want to move on. This concept must be built into the plan. At latter stages of development there would be partner farms across the country and even around the world. Member swaps would be a fun and fulfilling way for people to live in other places around the world and get to know other people from other cultures and live on farms with other ideas. The swapping of ideas would be a key component of continued success.

The next important concept that would be a permanent feature of the farm/micro-village would be preservation of wealth. The very wealthy use the legal framework of an irrevocable trust to preserve their wealth after their death. It is silly that homes that are built then end up getting paid for over and over again because wealth does not get transferred intact from one generation to the next. With incomes of 300k to 600k the elimination of debt should be swift and final. The adults can decide for themselves if they want to have one very large home or if they want three or four mid-sized homes or if they want several tiny houses. In either case, debt should be eliminated in the first 5 to 10 years and then never return. The villages that are spawned by previous villages will be done so with cash and should never acquire debt at all. This new village will be an investment for the previous village in terms of relationships and in terms of return on capital. These micro-villages will also have an onsite retirement home for all the members that get old enough to need living assistance. This retirement home will dovetail with a small child care facility so from the cradle to the grave one can help and be helped in providing for their own needs and the needs of other members of the micro-village. The operating agreement that members enter into would provide a clause that once a member reaches a certain age and wants full time care for the rest of his or her life then the ownership shares will be transferred to the village trust so the wealth will be preserved from one generation to the next without it being taxed or lost in estate battles. In this manner the wealth of the estates should always only ever grow. Imagine what a beautiful and fun place this would be after ten or twenty years of improvements like a swimming pool, flower gardens, orchards, game rooms, hot tubs, exercise rooms and on and on.

The next important concept that has been time tested and proven to be a very important driver of human progress is the possibility of wealth and the threat of poverty. The profit motive must be employed as a major driver to push the success of the estate forward. There are thousands of different ways this could be achieved. I will offer one idea merely to point out that the profit motive and selfishness could be employed to fuel the working engine of the estate for the benefit of all. Imagine that the operating rules of the estate required a 1-year unpaid internship. This would be a trial period where your hard work and attitude of cooperation were evaluated to determine if you would be a good fit for permanent membership in the micro-village. If you successfully passed this term to the satisfaction of the current members then you would be given some stock in the company. The next stage would be a vesting period where you would be required to work 10 years for 40 hours a week, part at a 9 to 5 job and part on the estate. But the rules could be set up so that if someone earned more than the standard bench mark of say 40k/year then they could become vested faster. Maybe one rule would allow them to work 80 hours a week on the estate in order to become vested faster. Imagine that once you become fully vested then you are only required to work 20 hours a week. This would provide a powerful motive for people to work hard so they might become vested faster. Imagine that once you are vested you decide you want to take a six-month vacation so you work a 40-hour week for half the year and then you are free the last half of the year to take a motorhome tour of the country. There are many other ways that the community could give incentives to those working to become vested. The estate could own a couple of sports cars that were reserved for the use of vested members. They could own a motor home that was reserved for the use of the vested members. The list of progressive incentives could be endless. These are just a few examples, but if we are going to fully benefit from more socially progressive structures, we must not be naive about the fact that selfishness has always been a primary motive for work and initiative. The estate will of course retain the ability to fire someone and buy back their stock in extreme circumstances.

The next crucial component of the micro-village would be using the growing capital of the estate to invest in small local businesses. Ideally the wage earners that were working the 9 to 5 jobs would be employed by these very same locally owned businesses. This is where we come back full circle to our game of monopoly. All of the power actually resides with the people. Once you have ten or twenty or even a hundred micro-villages, the combined wealth begins to become very powerful. You can see how the game can quickly become one in which there exists a very real possibility of making the old game obsolete. You see, here is the crucial fact. All that is needed for the old game to die is for the rest of us to stop feeding it. The old game will die a natural death if we simply deprive it of oxygen. Imagine that twenty micro-villages buy a small medical clinic and hire the staff. They can decide to self-insure and save millions of dollars for their members by escaping the corrupt health care system whose costs are skyrocketing due to selfish insurance companies and profit focused drug companies. Imagine that the villages got together and did the same for car insurance, grocery stores, municipal electricity production, telecommunications and on and on. As the wealth of these villages grow, the more they will be able to create local businesses that make their dependence on large companies greatly diminished. Here is where we see the real power to upset the old game and make the new game successful. One reason that people still shop at Walmart is because they have the cheapest merchandise. Most people agree that it is morally wrong for the owners of Walmart, who simply inherited that wealth to be receiving an income of over 10 billion dollars a year while many of their 2 million employees are on food stamps. Walmart is able to offer very low prices for a variety of reasons. Among them are the power and efficiency of the economies of scale. The problem of sacrificing everything to the gods of economies of scale is that we end up with these gigantic companies whose CEOs make millions of dollars a year and have immense power while their employees feel very powerless and trapped. We must capture this power of the economies of scale on the smallest possible level (our own homes and farms) so we can give it up when it comes to giant companies. Because one thing is clear. We can make car companies at a very local level but they will never have the economies of scale of huge auto manufactures. But what this will mean is that most of us can become millionaires as long as all of us start with this idea of cooperative living on a small scale and small local businesses doing all the rest. Notice that this doesn’t rule out any of the modern technologies that we have today. It also doesn’t rule out global trade. It would rule out these gigantic shipping companies that do most of the shipping and make billions of dollars in revenue. Instead we would go back to a situation where there were millions of shipping companies all with a very small piece of the pie. As far as technology goes, it doesn’t take a multi-billion-dollar company to create high tech products. I know of a local business that employees about 10 people and they manufacture circuit boards. So, everything in our modern society can still be had in this new game.

We need land and we need labor. We will participate in the economy and we will simultaneously transform it. I invite you to join me, literally. I have a small plot of land big enough to produce enough food for 5 to 10 people. My home is powered by a solar power plant that we built. You will become an owner and equal partner. We will buy more land and invite more people to become equal partners, and on and on until we have a new game that is much more fun than this old tired game we are playing. We must start with food and shelter. If we make sure the most basic needs of those playing our game are taken care of, we then become bold enough to do more. I’m an accountant and I promise you we can make the business side of our game very profitable. We then become empowered to truly start a new game where everyone has an equal opportunity to flourish and thrive and enjoy the rich bounty that this planet has to offer. This new game will heal our culture and our planet. Please join me.

Much love and hope.

Brandon

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I was wrong…about Abraham

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When I was younger I was told a story that was supposed to be one of the most inspiring stories throughout all of recorded history. It was the story of Abraham being willing to sacrifice his son Isaac. I believed that this was proof of his love and devotion to god. I also believed that this kind of faith was something we all should aspire to.

I am now totally repulsed by the story.

Let’s set aside, for the purposes of this discussion, the idea that it is likely that such a person as Abraham, as described in the Old Testament, never existed. Let’s assume that the historicity of the story is not important to the matter of whether we can learn an important moral lesson from this story.

Firstly, this story, and all others like it throughout all of religious history undermine the thing that theists claim as religion’s greatest strength: namely, an objective morality. If it were true that god gave to humankind an unchanging morality that humankind could anchor their lives to, then giving a commandment like: ‘Go kill your innocent son just to prove your devotion to me.’ is a disaster. You cannot have an eternal and unchanging objective moral law that says that you should not shed innocent blood and then have an exception anytime god decides that he wants to test someones devotion.

Secondly, is this really the best way to test someones devotion? If I were god and I wanted to test a subjects devotion, I would come up with a series of tests that was like running the gauntlet of goodness. Say for example, (and I’m totally shooting from the hip here) travel hundreds of miles until you found at least ten orphaned children that were begging on the side of a road somewhere and adopt them as your own. This would have been a perfect test for someone who wanted to be the father of nations. Why not have him prove that he was devoted to goodness by…I don’t know…actually having him do something really good?   Instead we have this example that says the way to really test your devotion to god is if you are willing to break his laws!?!?

How many cult leaders have used this example to convince their followers that they needed to do something that seemed very wrong? Several examples come to mind and I haven’t even done any extensive research on the matter. Joseph Smith, Warren Jeffs, Marshal Applewhite, Ervil LeBaron just to name a few. Joseph Smith (the founder of Mormonism) used this kind of language to get many of his followers to join a secret group that blatantly violated what was held to be gods laws of marriage fidelity. Wasn’t it convenient that Joseph Smith was told by god that nearly forty women, (some as young as fourteen and some already married to other men), needed to secretly marry Smith and sleep with him in order to prove their faith? If Joseph Smith really was threatened with an angel holding a flaming sword telling him to lie to his wife and sleep with many other women, as he claimed, then offering his neck to the sword would have been the best way to prove his courage and devotion to goodness. The fact that he didn’t means he failed to prove his devotion to virtue. Who cares about what threat he was given or what reward he was offered. This kind of thing is precisely the thing that if resisted proves ones virtue. Does god really have such little imagination that this is the best he could come up with to test these women’s faith?

How crazy is this?  Doesn’t the Abraham story make it more likely that people who believe in the bible would be willing to follow murderous voices inside their head? If you answer no to this question, I don’t think you’re being honest with yourself, and I don’t think you’ve heard of Dan Lafferty or Ervil LeBaron.

To show how crazy this really is let’s just restate what is really going on here. In order to prove that you are really good you have to do something really bad. This is the Abrahamic test in a nutshell. It’s time that we call it what it is…either evidence of mental illness or a disturbing bit of manipulation.

Imagine that you were an employee trying to build your career in a promising company where there was lots of room for moving up. Imagine further that your manager tells you that to prove your loyalty to him that you need to start stealing money from customers. In my humble opinion the employee that passed the test would be the one who said that if this is how it was going to be then he would rather quit than steal from customers, and that he would not do it no matter the reward offered. This person would have passed the test in my view and someone who went ahead and stole the money was not worthy of keeping the job.

Are you still unconvinced?  Ask yourself this: If you are a christian and you condemn the Muslims who kill Christians because god told them to kill under certain circumstances, is this kind of exception to the rule a problem now? Remember that Muslims believe in Abraham. They believe in the idea that the murder of the innocent is permissible when explicitly commanded by god.

Please… if anyone ever tells you to do something very bad in order to prove that you are very good, just say no! Saying no to this kind of perverse suggestion, even if it were to come from the lips of the Almighty himself, is the best way to show unshakable commitment to virtue.

The entire point of a commitment to virtue is that you do not let yourself become tempted by a threat of punishment or a promise of reward as a means to get you to compromise your standards. As the well known Christian song says, ‘Do what is right, let the consequence follow!’

If you were sent to hell for standing up for what is right, at least you would be in the company of others with uncompromising moral standards, not like the sycophant Abraham. Of course that’s just my opinion of him now. But maybe I’m wrong…how about you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was wrong…about ‘certainty’

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When I was younger I was encouraged to model the members of my church that displayed the most conviction in their beliefs. Doubt, among the religious, is often considered weak and not as worthy as certainty. I grew up modeling this kind of certainty quite well. It isn’t surprising that we admire passionate conviction and confidence when you consider the central role that confidence plays in leadership skills. A strong leader can get people who are riddled with self doubt to follow them…even off a cliff, as was the case with Heaven’s Gate cult mass suicide.

I still fully acknowledge the useful role that confidence can play in many situations. When a  group has very confident leaders, the cohesion will tend to be stronger. Strong cohesion and a powerful sense of purpose can be very good things, while too much self doubt can be paralyzing.

The problems arise when followers of a very compelling narrative do not recognize the pitfalls that come with an unjustified level of certainty.

The first and most disturbing pitfall is that of bigotry. Merriam-Webster defines a bigot as : a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially: one who regards or treats the members of another group with hatred and intolerance.

What is being described in the definition of a bigot is the kind of belief that doesn’t bend in the face of new evidence. When you have an attitude of superiority that is based mostly on a strong feeling, you are a bigot.

Lest you think I am being unfair to religious beliefs, let me be clear. I don’t think  all religious people are bigots and many people who are not religious are bigots. The most obvious example of bigotry, albeit mostly harmless, is sports fans. ‘My team is better than your team!’ Why? ‘Because they are my team…duh!’

If you say that you are certain about a belief system that is contrary to someone else’s belief system and the reason you give is that you ‘just know’; you might be a bigot. If you say that you ‘just know’ that others are wrong and you’re right and that you don’t need to justify your beliefs because you ‘just know’ that you’re right; all that is left as grounds for your confidence is your inherent superiority. This is bigotry.

In order to treat all people with equal respect in regards to their beliefs we must put our own beliefs on par with the beliefs of others. In other words, if we expect others to modify their beliefs in the face of conflicting evidence, then we must be willing to do the same. With this in mind the oft repeated notion that ‘Nothing you could say would change my mind!’ is not an expression of virtue. Far from it. It is blatant bigotry. It is saying that there is no possible way that I am wrong; I’m not like other people who make mistakes.

Any virtue, in order to be a true virtue, can only be such if it can be hoped that all people of every team, tribe, or religion would adopt it. If you do not believe it is good that the members of radical Islamic groups adopt an attitude that it is impossible that they could be wrong, then no one should adopt this attitude. If you believe that it is appropriate for your tribe or the leaders of your tribe to adopt the attitude of infallibility and you simultaneously believe that this attitude would be inappropriate for anyone else, then you are a bigot.

The hilarious irony in the way this attitude sometimes plays out among some is that the religious leaders will one minute be criticizing the doubtful and modeling an attitude of absolute certainty and the next minute extolling the virtue of humility. Either one or the other is pretense. You cannot believe that it is impossible that you could be wrong and also believe that you are no better than anyone else. In fact, the feeling that I was just like everyone else in the world, and that I was no better than anyone, was one of the first profound feelings that possessed me (for the first time in my life) the moment that I lost my belief in the religion of my youth at age 38. I realize that not everyone who is religious is like I used to be. But there must be a fair bit who are.

Doubt is a very healthy expression of the reality that we are all prone to make mistakes. It seems, therefore, that when you take the position that you couldn’t possibly be wrong, not like all those other fools, you are expressing bigotry. But… I’ve been wrong before, how about you?

I was wrong….about politics

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When I was younger, I felt the virtue of the conservative right wing to my very core. I was certain that all democrats were either stupid or evil. I was quite smug about it. I devoured anything I could get a hold of that would confirm my bias. Of course, it’s easy to see why I was so deeply convinced of the superiority of my position. Republicans stand for the virtues of hard work and accountability. They stand for freedom and traditional family values. I was also convinced that the world was on a path to hell and that only the select few who resisted the temptation of the modern liberal world would be spared destruction.

Well, now I still believe in the virtue of the republican party to the core of my being. But I have a very different opinion of liberals. I identify as a left wing liberal now days. My view of the two political parties in the United States is one of opposing virtues. We know that justice and mercy are equally virtuous and we shouldn’t call for one to the exclusion of the other. We should give space for both justice and mercy.

Republicans are trying to get the country to be more conservative. They generally want both fiscal conservatism and social conservatism. There is tremendous virtue in wanting things to stay the same. Keeping things the same means more stability and predictability. That’s not all. Consider some other points where democrats and republicans often differ. Republicans are usually calling for less money to be spent on social welfare programs. They claim that handouts undermine freedom and personal responsibility; and that’s true. That argument is a general appeal for more justice and less mercy. They will say that they have nothing against mercy but too much of it is bad. Of course this is perfectly true as well.

The part where I do differ from most conservatives, and I would argue with the 20 year younger version of myself, is the direction of the world. There is a mountain of evidence, for anyone who cares to look *, that the world is trending in the right direction. It isn’t just wealth and democracy that is trending around the world either. I am talking about a world that is much more moral than 200 or even 100 years ago.  War death, homicide, violent crime are all down over the last several decades and centuries. Women’s rights, civil rights, religious freedom, higher education are all becoming the standard for any country that wants to be taken seriously on the global stage. The only state (if you can call it that) where slavery is currently legal is the Islamic ‘state’ of Iraq and Syria aka ISIS; which is doing it’s best to return the state of the world to the way it was nearly 2000 years ago.

The funny thing is that maybe it’s okay if conservatives don’t believe that the world is becoming a better place in spite of all the evidence. They feel that it isn’t becoming a better place and this serves a very useful purpose. The rate of change in the world will exactly correlate with the rate of errors both great and small. So the conservative party serves to slow down the rate at which we march into the future and thereby making the journey smoother and more predictable. If it weren’t for the conservatives, the liberals would run so fast into the future we would likely run off a cliff.

I hope I have made you at least consider the possibility that the ‘other’ political party isn’t made up of idiots and devils. The conservatives are trying to maintain order, and anchor us to the tried and true. They want stability and justice. The liberals think that we can do better and want to try new things. They want progress and mercy. Stability vs Progress and Justice vs Mercy. Those are opposing virtues if I ever saw them. All good things; but like all good things you can have too much. It, therefore, also seems good that they are pushing against each other. That will help ensure a healthy measure of each.

So tell me…am I wrong?  I’ve been wrong before.

 

* One of many resources that can demonstrate the virtuous trend of our world:    https://ourworldindata.org/

 

 

 

 

The Perfect Life

The Perfect Life?
The Perfect Life?

 

The perfect life seems like a silly ideal. Yet it is through our striving for ideals that we make progress.

I have decided to start a blog about the perfect life. I intend it to be an exploration of what I have learned in my life up to this point, and an attempt to organize the main guiding principles, that I may progress.

Anyone who has lived for any length of time has learned that sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. This is the main theme I will try to keep in mind as we explore the good life.

I call this idea – ‘opposing virtues’. If asked which is right… mercy or justice, one should not say either one or the other. The correct answer is a full measure of both, perfectly balanced.

It is my belief that every virtue has an opposing virtue and the ideal life will keep this principle in mind.

So as I explore the full life I will be continually asking if there is an opposing virtue here that I am missing.

For example, the picture of the cow at the top might truly represent the perfect life for someone. And I might agree that there is a virtue represented there. Let’s say that the cow represents perfect contentedness. But doesn’t contentedness have an opposing virtue? I believe ambition is the opposite of contentedness. So the question is…

Laziness...or contentedness?
Laziness…or contentedness?

 

….and…

 

Ambition...or obsession?
Ambition…or obsession?

 

I believe the answer is… yes.  🙂